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Bullpen pitches in to help Clemens
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06/14/2003  2:23 AM ET 
Bullpen pitches in to help Clemens
Relief corps pitches 2 1/3 scoreless innings
Vote now for the 2003 All-Star game
Roger Clemens thanks Mariano Rivera after the reliever shut the door on the Cardinals Friday night. (Gregory Bull/AP)
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NEW YORK -- Everyone in Yankee Stadium on Friday night was excited, and more than a little awed, to see Roger Clemens come out blowing smoke.

Except the guys in the Yankees bullpen.

For everyone else, seeing Clemens strike out the side the first two innings was thrilling, as he rocketed past the 4,000-strikeout figure.

For those embattled relievers, it was intimidating. It meant an escalating pitch-count. Which ensured Clemens would have to call it a night early and, if ahead, again trust them with his 300th career victory.

It is a burden the bullpen -- nay, the entire team -- had carried since that Eric Karros three-run gloom-and-doom blow off the recently released Juan Acevedo in Wrigley Field.

"The last four games, there has been a lot of pressure," left-hander Chris Hammond said. "The whole team hasn't been playing like we're capable of."

Clemens' extended quest -- which ended, at last, with his 5-2 victory over the Cardinals Friday night -- had thrown everyone off their game. Even the fans hadn't been rooting like they're capable of.

Witness their reaction when, sure enough, Joe Torre had to come get Clemens with two outs in the seventh and turn a 3-2 lead over to that bullpen.

Recalling what transpired the last time Torre yanked Clemens, the full house booed. Lustily, angrily, incessantly.

"I felt bad that Torre had to hear that," Mariano Rivera later said. "He's been there for this organization, for New York, for a long time."

"I was kinda disappointed in them booing Joe, even when he was walking off the field," said Hammond, the first one out of that bullpen.

The booing was not turned off by J.D. Drew's bunt single, nor by the Albert Pujols single that followed.

On the mound, Hammond became so uptight, he began pitching in a trance.

But it would be the last time the crowd of 55,214 had a chance to boo. Hammond ended that seventh by getting the dangerous Jim Edmonds to roll to second. Then both Antonio Osuna and Rivera worked one-two-three innings in the eighth and ninth, respectively.

"The toughest thing for me to do in this game wasn't managing," said Torre, "but having these guys come in, knowing what they were carrying with them.

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"With relief pitchers, there's enough pressure on them to begin with. To know that this extra added pressure was on them, from Hammond to Osuna to Mo ... they carried a great deal of responsibility. They certainly didn't want to give up a run, because this was Roger's game."

Concurring, Rivera said, "We wanted to be there for him."

Two batters into his stint, Hammond wanted to be anywhere else.

"Yeah, it got a little hairy there," he said. "When those two guys got on, yeah, there was a lot of pressure.

"As I told the guys in here, I don't even remember what I did out there. A lot of pressure was taken off when I got that final out, and even more when they told me I was out."

And just about all of the pressure left on Raul Mondesi's two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh. In the comfort zone of a three-run lead, Osuna and Rivera kept a tight grip on Clemens' big decision.

"We finally got it done," Rivera said. "There was a lot of pressure, because we just wanted to do it, and move on."

Showing the most mettle was Osuna, who had been the main culprit of Clemens' blown lead in Detroit two weeks ago.

This time, Osuna came in to retire the side on 13 pitches, 10 of them strikes.

"Tony isn't going to back off," Torre said of the right-hander. "He's going to come in and be aggressive. He had a tough guy to start with in (Scott) Rolen."

The tough guy hit the ball hard, but lined it right into shortstop Derek Jeter's glove. The rest was easy.

Afterward, they all breathed easy, the relievers maybe exhaling just a little bit more than the others in the clubhouse.

"I still have butterflies, even now," Hammond said. "When I hugged Roger on the field after the game and saw tears in his eyes, I almost started crying myself.

"This was a great day. I'm glad to have been a part of it."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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