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Not the ending Clemens hoped for

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.