Not the ending Clemens hoped for

Updated: October 17, 2003, 5:22 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- As he trudged off the mound Thursday night, there was no tip of the hat, no triumphant wave to the fans, nothing befitting what might have been the final exit of baseball's latest 300-game winner.

Instead, Roger Clemens walked purposely toward the dugout, his head down, knocked out in the fourth inning of the most important game of the season for the New York Yankees.

He was trailing 4-0 after yielding home runs to Trot Nixon and Bill Mueller. There were runners on first and third with none out when manager Joe Torre came out to get him.

Torre knew the significance of the moment even though the Yankees rallied to beat the Boston Red Sox 6-5 to advance to the World Series and ensure that Clemens would make at least one more start.

"He battled but he didn't have good stuff," Torre said. "He looked like he tried to muscle it a little bit. Emotionally, he was fine. I thought he was in pretty good control of himself."

Clemens' pitching line was three-plus innings, six hits, four runs, one walk and one strikeout. It was not pretty and it could not have been easy for Torre to come out and get him.

"Later on is emotion," he said. "We're trying to win a game. The leash is short when it comes to Game 7. We had everybody in the bullpen."

There were some perfunctory pats on the back from his teammates and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and then Clemens was gone down the tunnel, headed to the clubhouse.

There was a huge ovation for him from the crowd as he walked off, but Clemens just kept his head down and adjusted his belt with one hand.

It was hardly the way he hoped to go out.

"I wasn't worried about getting another chance," Clemens said. "I've had tons of chances, been-there, done-that. This is about getting the guys who haven't been there the rings.''

At age 41, it has been a landmark season for him -- the 300th victory, the 4,000th strikeout of a career that will lead him to the Hall of Fame. This would have been the perfect exclamation point for his career, pitching the Yankees into one more World Series in a Game 7 showdown with Boston's Pedro Martinez.

He had arrived at the ballpark later than usual for the start, perhaps delayed by traffic because of a water main break north of Yankee Stadium. Clemens is a creature of habit and that may have thrown him off ever-so-slightly.

He got through the first inning allowing a single to Todd Walker but leaving him stranded. There was one out in the second when it all began to come apart for him.

Kevin Millar singled and Nixon followed with a long home run that gave Boston a quick 2-0 lead. Clemens' pitches seemed up in the zone, especially the one Nixon hit for the homer.

"He threw a fast ball to Trot," Torre said. "He threw him a fastball and Nixon can hit a fast ball on Christmas Day."

After he struck out Bill Mueller, Jason Varitek doubled and scored on a two-out error by third baseman Enrique Wilson. Suddenly, it was 3-0.

After a 1-2-3 third inning, it seemed that Clemens might be settling down. But he never got another out. Millar opened the fourth with a home run and Nixon walked. When Mueller singled, Torre hopped out of the Yankees dugout and motioned to the bullpen for Mike Mussina.

There was nothing remarkable about the pitching change, except for the pitcher who was being lifted. Clemens, who has said he would retire after the season, walked off the mound, knowing that it might be the final time in his career.

His teammates made sure it wasn't.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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