- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Why is this man retiring?
This isn't Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield for the Mets. This isn't Harmon Killebrew having trouble scoring from second base with the Royals. This isn't Steve Carlton getting hammered out of the Minnesota bullpen.
This is a pitcher who is still throwing gas, still making batters shake like bobblehead dolls and still winning games. This is Roger Clemens still pitching so well at age 41 that every day he pitches is Turn Back the Clock Day.
He's like "The Simpson's.'' He's never jumped the shark.
Game 3 of the Division Series between Minnesota and New York could have been the last start of his career, but neither Clemens nor his teammates saw it that way.
"You don't go in there thinking negatively, that you might lose,'' shortstop Derek Jeter said. "You always expect that you'll go on. When he starts the seventh game of the World Series, then you know it will be his last start.''
"Before you get locked in, you could hear some people yelling ('This is your last game') by the bullpen,'' Clemens said. "You just try to be defiant and you don't want that to be the case.''
It wasn't. Clemens beat the Twins 3-1 and if the Yankees win Sunday or Monday, he is guaranteed at least one more start in the championship series. Throwing low 90s heat and diving splitters, Clemens allowed five hits and one run -- a third-inning home run to A.J. Pierzynski. He struck out six, walked one and threw only 18 balls.
His fastball registered 93. In the seventh inning.
"He's like a freak of nature,'' Jeter said.
The Twins and Yankees left the Metrodome not knowing what time Game 4 was scheduled to start, due to TV. Which was only fitting because the way Clemens pitched during Game 3, you didn't know what year it was. It sure seemed like the late 1980s. Watching Clemens pitch Saturday, the president could have been George Bush Sr., not Dubya. You expected to turn on the car radio and hear Terence Trent D'Arby. You expected Andre Agassi to have hair.
Why is this man retiring?
"It's not about being able to pitch,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He won his 300th game, he certainly wants to be home with his boys and the fact is, it's his choice. He can walk away.''
Well, Clemens can walk away but he'll find himself looking over his shoulder for months, if not years, and wondering if he's making the right move. Everyone does. Reggie Jackson said he considered making a comeback a couple years after he retired. Jim Palmer attempted a comeback seven years after he retired. Paul Molitor said he desperately missed baseball his first summer away -- and he spent that summer touring Europe with Bruce Springsteen.
"Someone once said that you have to retire twice,'' Molitor said. "Once physically and then mentally. And you don't do it at the same time.''
The only people excited about Clemens' retirement are his family and his opponents. He can't retire soon enough for batters.
"It's just the name, Roger Clemens,'' Twins left fielder Shannon Stewart said. "You go to sleep the night before the game thinking about him. Last night I went to bed thinking about facing him. Every time you face him, you get that butterflies feeling in your stomach. It's Roger.
"I told the guys before the game, 'This might be his last game but he won't be going out there just to pitch. He's going to go out there to win.' ''
And win he did.
Hideki Matsui gave him a 2-0 lead with two-run homer in the second and the Twins never really threatened again. At times -- like when rookie Michael Ryan struck out feebly in the fifth inning -- it looked as if they didn't have a prayer.
"Most of the time his fastball is around 91, 92 but he moves the ball in and out and uses that splitter,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And he recognizes when a batter will chase a bad pitch. It's not just about blowing people away, he can get a guy to chase.''
Why is this man retiring?
"I've accomplished everything,'' Clemens said. "I still have tremendous goals. ... I'll miss getting out of jams and trying to elevate my game. And the feeling I had my last inning -- I'll take the adrenaline rush of that inning. (Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre) wanted me to empty the tank and for some reason my emotions and everything came rushing back that inning.''
The Yankees are a victory away from winning this series but it won't be easy. The Twins start 24-year-old Johan Santana in Game 4 and he silenced the Yankees in Game 1 before leaving with a leg cramp. He'll face David Wells, New York's second consecutive starter in his forties.
"He started Clemens today and he's starting Wells tomorrow,'' Gardenhire said. "His starters are getting older and mine are getting younger.''
That's not quite right. Gardenhire's pitchers are getting younger. But there is no indication that Clemens has aged a single day since he struck out his first batter two decades ago.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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