October 21, 2005

“Competitor” Clemens to start World Series Game 1

By Brad Dorfman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Nine years ago, some baseball
executives thought one-time Red Sox pitching phenomenon Roger
Clemens might be coming to the end of the line.

Four Cy Young awards, 1,912 strike outs, 149 wins and one
aborted retirement later, the pitcher known as "The Rocket" is
set to start Saturday's Game 1 of the World Series for the
Houston Astros against the Chicago White Sox -- one of the
teams that passed on him when he was a free agent after the
1996 season.

"He's a tremendous competitor," Jerome Holtzman, official
historian for Major League Baseball and a Hall of Fame baseball
writer said of the 43-year-old Clemens's longevity.

"It all has to with his being a competitor. I'm sure a lot
of guys could have gone on (as long) but they didn't have the
fire in their belly."

Even though Clemens battled hamstring problems down the
stretch this season, he still led the major leagues with a
minuscule 1.87 earned run average, while posting a 13-8 record.

"I'm pretty sure if he had a broken leg he'd probably
figure out a way to get people out," White Sox first baseman
Paul Konerko said.

Clemens would not say how close he was to being in top
health Friday.

"I don't care how my body feels this time of year," he said
during a news conference. "If you need more aspirin, you need
more heat, you need more ice, this is the time of year you get
it. You don't ask questions."


Clemens ranks second in Major League history with 4,317
strike outs and is tied for 10th with 328 career wins. He has
also won seven Cy Young awards - given each year to the
league's top pitcher during the regular season.

That is not bad for a pitcher who some thought was on the
downside of his career after posting a 10-13 record for the Red
Sox in 1996.

"I don't know how much he has left in that arm," then-White
Sox general manager Ron Schueler said at the time.

Clemens had plenty, winning the Cy Young award the next two
seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays before moving on to the New
York Yankees in 1999, winning a World Series the following

Clemens had planned to retire after the 2003 season with
the Yankees, with Game 4 of the 2003 World Series appearing to
be his last game.

But when friend and fellow Houston-area resident Andy
Pettitte left the Yankees as a free agent and signed with
Houston, Clemens came out of retirement and signed with his
home state team.


He plays under a special arrangement that allows him to
leave the team between starts to be home with his four sons --
Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody, "K" being the symbol used to
represent a strikeout. Koby was selected in this year's draft
by the Astros.

"The fact of the matter is I wouldn't be here if I didn't
have a chance to watch these kids," Clemens said.

"We have an 18-year-old who is doing this now, is embarking
on his career. And I've got three more behind him that care far
more that I see them hit a ball or make a big tackle than go
out here and shake hands."

Over the years, Clemens has maintained most of his
velocity, losing only a mile or two off his fastball, and
gaining a nasty split-finger pitch, White Sox players said

"He's still got a blazing fastball," said Frank Thomas, the
injured White Sox slugger, who has four home runs and a .255
batting average in his career against Clemens.

"I think he's become a better pitcher. He really
concentrates on spots more than just blowing you away."

Thomas has been injured for most of the season and will
have to watch Clemens pitch from the dugout.

But he has this advice for his team mates: "Just be ready
to swing the bat and don't take pitches for granted because if
you get something to hit you better hit it, because Roger has
the ability to finish hitters."