Roger Clemens said it felt like "old times" when he made his first start of the season for the New York Yankees. The opponent in his second outing should only enhance that sense of nostalgia.
Clemens looks to pitch the Yankees (33-31) to their 10th straight win Friday night when he takes the mound against the struggling New York Mets (36-28) at Yankee Stadium.The Rocket's return was a success Saturday, as he gave up three runs in six innings and struck out seven in a 9-3 home victory over Pittsburgh. Clemens was rusty at times during his 349th career win, but got stronger as the game went on as he made his first start for New York since the 2003 World Series."My biggest hurdle was my legs today. I just don't want to go backward with that," the 44-year-old Clemens said. "I expect to get stronger each time from here out."That win was the Yankees' fifth in a row, and they have continued to roll since then. New York completed its second straight series sweep Thursday, defeating Arizona 7-1 behind eight innings from Andy Pettitte to give it 12 wins in its last 14 games.The Yankees, who reached their high point of the season at two games over .500, will be looking to win 10 in a row for the first time since May 7-17, 2005.New York's surge has allowed it to climb back into the wild-card race and cut Boston's AL East lead -- 14 1-2 games over the Yankees at one point -- to single digits."It's fun right now to come to the ballpark and do this," Pettitte said.Clemens was used to being on winning teams while pitching for the Yankees from 1999-2003, and his opponent Friday night should also give him a sense of familiarity. The right-hander made six regular season starts against the Mets during that span and struggled, going 2-4 with a 7.01 ERA.Clemens also was embroiled in controversy against the Mets, as he beaned catcher Mike Piazza in the head at Yankee Stadium during a 4-2 win July 8, 2000. The ugly incident increased the intensity of the already heated Subway Series, and Clemens and Piazza were involved in more controversy when the teams met in the World Series that fall.Starting Game 2, Clemens shattered Piazza's bat with a fastball, and when the broken barrel bounced to Clemens on the mound, he fired it in the direction of Piazza, who was running to first base. Benches cleared when Piazza walked toward Clemens, but no punches were thrown, and the right-hander went on to pitch eight scoreless innings in a 6-5 win. The Yankees won the series in five games.Clemens faced the Mets twice after leaving the Yankees for Houston and was outstanding both times. He threw seven scoreless innings and allowed two hits with 10 strikeouts in the Astros' 3-2, 13-inning loss May 16, 2004, and again didn't allow a run in seven innings April 13, 2005, as he gave up two hits and struck out nine in the Mets' 1-0 win. Clemens didn't get a decision in either start.The Mets team that Clemens will face Friday no longer includes Piazza, and the Mets are likely to be focused on more pressing matters than the Yankees' starting pitcher. The Mets have fallen into a tailspin, losing five straight and nine of 10. The slide has left them struggling to stay ahead of Atlanta and Philadelphia for the NL East lead.The Mets have scored three runs or less in seven of their last nine defeats. In two losses to Detroit last weekend, they scored seven in each game but gave up a combined 23 runs."It's a 162-game season. I mean, I'd love to play all year long the way we did at the start of the season, but it's not going to happen," third baseman David Wright said after the Mets fell 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. "In reality, this is where the good teams become greater -- working their way out of these things."One of the players who helped the Mets jump out to the division lead is left-hander Oliver Perez (6-5, 3.21 ERA), but he'll be trying to avoid losing a third straight start Friday. He gave up five runs and walked five in five innings of an 8-7 defeat to Detroit on Saturday.Perez, though, beat the Yankees 3-2 on May 18 with 7 2-3 innings of two-run ball, and he's 2-1 with a 3.26 ERA in three career starts against them.The Mets took two of three in the first meeting of the season at Shea from May 18-20, but the Yankees lead the Subway Series 33-24, and 18-9 at Yankee Stadium.