Yankees asking a lot of 44-year-old Clemens - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

By Tom Curran

Yankees asking a lot of 44-year-old Clemens

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AP Photo/Gail Burton AP Photo/Gail Burton
BALTIMORE -- There are two ways to look at the predicament Roger Clemens finds himself in as he pitches for a Yankees team taking on water.

You can view the proceedings with a smirk. And a lot of people will.

The Rocket auctioned himself to the Yankees in May. He knew he had them by the short and curlies when their staff was a shambles. He played the opportunist to the tune of about $1 million per start. And the Yankees, happy to hurl cash at their problems, bit.

Why feel badly now that the Yankees have lost seven of their last eight after the 4-0 loss to the last-place Orioles?

Or you can look at Clemens through a wide-view lens. A "True Grit" era John Wayne in pinstripes. Grizzled. Old. Unrelenting. You can ignore the Wednesday loss in a matchup with a guy named Eric Bedard and instead look and see that Clemens is trailing Lefty Grove and Christy Mathewson in winning percentage for pitchers with more than 300 wins or that he's 14 wins away from passing Kid Nichols, Pud Galvin and Warren Spahn to move into fifth in all-time wins.

Or you can do both.

Because it's impossible to enter the Yankees clubhouse right now and not notice it reeks of despondency. That's immediate and Clemens is part of that.

After Wednesday's loss, they've dropped four straight, there are five teams ahead of them for the Wild Card, they are 11 games out in the AL East and they haven't been under .500 this late in a season since 1995.

"Roger will make it right." That's the insinuation behind the pursuit and the money they threw at him. But it's a helluva lot to ask of a 44-year-old in 97 degree heat. And the warhorse they tethered their hopes to, for the first time in 200 starts, failed to strike out a single Oriole.

"I think Roger goes out there thinking contact and there was never a situation when he needed a strikeout," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "There wasn't a guy at third base with less than two outs and that's normally where he does it. Knowing the weather out there, I'm sure Roger was thinking about contact more than about striking people out."

Clemens wasn't without strong points. In the second inning, he took a one-hopper off the shin that ricocheted between the mound and the first base line. Clemens chased it, dropping into a slide so that he could make the play and did.

In the bottom of the fourth, with runners on first and third and two out, Clemens went up and in on Aubrey Huff who was hanging over the plate. Then he got him to ground to short to keep it scoreless.

In the fifth, he got out of another jam, a second-and-third situation in which he got Brian Roberts to ground out to end the inning. But after five full shutout innings and 75 pitches, he came undone. A single, a walk a single and then a three-run homer by Huff.

"It's my fault," said Clemens. "You could see how the game was breaking down. I've been in hundreds of those types of games and you just want to minimize (damage) and keep momentum. You want to stay away from a big inning,"

You could tell Clemens was winding down his talk. He started fiddling with items in the top of his locker, looking away from the media. He ran his palm over his wet, spiked hair when asked another question, this one about figuring out, "what's going on?"

"It's not going to get any easier and nobody's going to hand us anything," he said. "We gotta come back, win tomorrow get home and get on another roll."

One more game in Baltimore and then home to New York for 10 games before the All Star break. Games against the Angels, A's and Twins. Games that could move the Yankees and Clemens further from immediate relevancy.

But Clemens stays relevant. An icon in the December of his athletic career.

When John Wayne died, he wanted his epitaph to read, "Feo, Fuerte y Formal." It means, "Ugly, Strong and Dignified."

It seems to fit Clemens' Yankee epilogue.

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