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Two-Stage Rocket

Clemens achieves major milestones twice in one night, earning 300th victory and surpassing 4,000 strikeouts in Yankees' 5-2 win over Cardinals.

June 14, 2003|J.A. Adande | Time Staff Writer

NEW YORK — It took Roger Clemens so long to get his 300th victory, he accrued interest.

When it finally happened, when the New York Yankees beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-2, Friday night, it was worth two additions to his Hall of Fame plaque.

Not only did Clemens become the 21st pitcher to win 300 games, he also became only the third to surpass 4,000 strikeouts.

"I wouldn't distinguish between the two," Clemens said. "My two [championship] rings I look at every day are still the best.

"Four thousand and 300 puts me with some great men that have ever played the game and stepped on that mound. I'm very happy I was able to catch those guys."

After winning No. 299 on May 21 in a 4-2 Yankee victory at Boston, where he spent the first 13 years of his career, Clemens took two losses and a no-decision. His entourage of family and friends traipsed from New York to Detroit to Chicago hoping to be there for the historic moment.

While Clemens kept stumbling across the threshold of history, the rest of the team was falling apart. After roaring out to an 18-3 start, the best in franchise history, the Yankees were only 19-15 afterward, including a five-game losing streak in May and a hitless outing against six Houston Astro pitchers Wednesday. It was the first time the Yankees had been no-hit since 1958.

Owner George Steinbrenner and Manager Joe Torre were sniping at each other again, and even bench coach Don Zimmer jumped into the fray, telling the Boss to back off and leave Torre alone. Reliever Juan Acevedo, who served up a home run that erased a lead in Clemens' last start, was cut shortly thereafter. And the Mets' firing of general manager Steve Phillips on Thursday had some wondering if the Yankees' Brian Cashman would be next.

Through all of the Bronx Zoo antics, the Yankees had become average on the field -- and Steinbrenner isn't spending $180 million this season for average.

For one night, Yankee Stadium regained that electric atmosphere usually reserved for October.

"It took on a playoff atmosphere," Torre said. "It was pretty special for me."

Nothing was going to deny Clemens on Friday night. Not a steady rain. Not two blown leads. Not even the ominous date: Friday the 13th.

Clemens came through with a vintage performance, striking out 10 while allowing six hits, two walks and two runs in 6 2/3 innings.

"He probably pitched as good a game as he's ever pitched, under the circumstances," Torre said.

He later added, "If Roger decides to walk away, it's because he wants to walk away, not because he can't do this anymore."

Torre's comments splashed a little reality onto the evening, serving as a reminder that Clemens is 40 and won't add to these illustrious totals after this season.

Clemens confirmed it, saying: "I'm not coming back. This is it for me."

He's more sentimental than he seems, and he admits he has been savoring the accomplishments. After icing down his arm and shaving, Clemens put on his uniform and returned to the dugout, sitting between Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre while Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth.

He looked a little misty-eyed as he took the field for congratulatory handshakes, and he admitted, "My voice was cracking. I was trying to keep it together."

His rooting section included his wife, Debbie, his four sons and their friends, a sister, a nephew, his mother-in-law and brother-in-law.

Clemens struck out the side in the first inning. "Straight adrenaline," he said.

In the bottom of the first, Derek Jeter singled and, one out later, Jorge Posada doubled to put the Yankees ahead, 1-0.

Clemens lost the lead in the top of the second, when Jim Edmonds led off with a home run to left field on a 1-0 pitch.

Then it was time to resume the pursuit of history. He needed one more strikeout for 4,000, and for the next two batters the applause and a pyrotechnic display of flashing light bulbs accompanied every two-strike pitch.

This one was delayed as well, but only for one batter. After Scott Rolen turned a 2-2 pitch into a double, Edgar Renteria became Clemens' 4,000th strikeout victim.

The cheering peaked again when Bob Sheppard introduced the next batter, Tino Martinez. He was a Yankee from 1996 to 2001, earning the fans' respect in the difficult role of replacing Don Mattingly. Clemens stepped off the rubber so Martinez could wave his helmet to the crowd. Then Clemens welcomed him back by striking him out.

Clemens' first six outs were strikeouts.

After Ruben Sierra's home run in the bottom of the fourth broke the second tie of the game, Clemens got out of a shaky fifth by striking out Edmonds and Rolen.

With Clemens' pitch count nearing 100, the bullpen door opened before the top of the seventh. But he emerged from the dugout, under the agreement that he could try to get two outs and would not face J.D. Drew. He got Kerry Robinson and Miguel Cairo to fly out to center field, then Torre went to the mound under a torrent of boos.

"I told him, 'I used to be popular here,' " Torre said.

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