09/21/2002 01:29 am ET
Clemens back to his old tricks
Veteran escapes bases-loaded jam and earns win
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
DETROIT -- This wasn't exactly Satchel Paige loading the bases then telling his defense to have a seat, he'll get out of it himself.
But Roger Clemens' escape Friday night was of nearly mythical proportions.
Two-to-one game. Sixth inning. Bases loaded, none out. Furthermore, a laser shot off Clemens' left shin, ripped hard enough to ricochet onto the grass in short right field, had helped load the bases.
Twelve pitches later, Clemens is walking toward his dugout, teeth and fist both clenched, still up 2-1. All this emotion, just for repelling the 99-loss Tigers?
"I don't care who it is or what the circumstances are," Clemens said. "It's nice having those challenges, and being able to do something about them."
Clemens' sorcery helped bring the Yankees a 5-1 victory, and to the doorsill of the 2002 AL East championship. With their 96th triumph, they secured a tie for the division title, reducing that Magic Number to 1.
In that sixth inning, the Magic Number was the 22 on Clemens' back.
Robert Fick homered off The Rocket's first pitch of the inning to halve his 2-0 lead. Then Carlos Pena singled to center, and scampered all the way to third on Michael Rivera's billiard shot off Clemens' leg.
Manager Joe Torre visited the mound, the trainer in tow. Clemens assured him he was all right, then proceeded with an unconvincing four-pitch walk of Eric Munson, loading the bases.
Here came Torre and the trainer again.
Torre: "Looks to me like you're favoring that leg."
Clemens: "No, no, no."
Torre: "We've got more important things to think about than just this game."
Clemens: "I know. I'm all right."
Torre made another about-face, and watched Clemens "get out of that jam ... pretty incredible. After telling the manager he was OK, guess he had to prove it."
Clemens fanned both Craig Monroe and Chris Truby around an infield pop by Andres Torres. He didn't make another pitch, but didn't have to for his 13th win of the season and No. 293 lifetime.
He expected his left lower leg to swell up a bit, and to show up Saturday morning at Comerica Park with a slight limp, but otherwise still pronounced himself "all right."
"I know the difference between pain and being hurt. I've been hit a lot of times; sometimes the ball is hit back at ya so fast, you can't react. If anything, that got my attention a bit.
-- Roger Clemens
"I know the difference between pain and being hurt," he said. "I've been hit a lot of times; sometimes the ball is hit back at ya so fast, you can't react. If anything, that got my attention a bit.
"I wanted to stick around and clean up that mess. I got going a bit. Just wanted to make sure I got the pitches in the right spots."
Consequently, he delivered his team to a favorable spot.
Assuming you accept the inevitability of the Yankees soon hoisting another division pennant, the worst thing that can happen to them is a loss in Saturday's matinee here against the Tigers.
Sure would ruin Torre's appetite.
"When you get to where you can reach out and touch it," Torre said of a fifth consecutive AL East title, "when it's imminent, sure, you want to get it over with.
"We'd just as soon do it ourselves, as opposed to looking at the scoreboard to see how Boston is doing."
The Yankees are back in Comerica Park action Saturday afternoon, but the Red Sox have a night date in Baltimore.
Meaning, should his gang lose, Torre and his boys won't even have a scoreboard to watch. They could win this title by SportsCenter, ruining a perfectly good night in Motown.
When it happens, a low-key celebration is anticipated. Yet their hunger for bigger prizes will not dilute the sense of satisfaction over another job well done.
"It's the reward of hard work, for getting things together," Torre said. "Anything can happen from here on out. The postseason is a crapshoot. Anything can happen in a short series.
"But this is what you work for, to get to the postseason. That's why, even though the Yankees have been through this many times recently, we still have people who haven't been here before. And it's still something for really being rewarded."
Clemens feels the same way. He stood his ground, that little patch of dirt around the rubber, partly out of obligation for those nearing their first Yankees clincher.
"We have some guys here who haven't experienced that," he said. "It's exciting for all, but more so for those who haven't yet had that experience.
"This is the time of year guys battle hard."
In other words, when you get hit, you hit back harder.
Post-pourri: When Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is activated for Saturday afternoon's game, the Tigers' park will turn into Three Rivera Stadium. NY outfielder Juan Rivera and Detroit catcher Michael Rivera were both in Friday night's starting lineup. ... The victory was Torre's 1,572nd as a manager, moving him past Dick Williams for 16th place on the all-time list. ... Alfonso Soriano stayed in the park, and stayed a home run away from 40-40 fame, but did go 2-for-3 and has 13 hits in his last 23 at-bats. He also collected his 100th RBI. ... Bernie Williams rejoined the lineup at DH, after missing two games with fluid behind his left knee, and doubled in five at-bats. ... Jason Giambi (stiff back) missed the game, and is unlikely to play Saturday, either.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or it's clubs.