10/23/2003 3:10 AM ET
Final liftoff for the Rocket
After rough first, Clemens finishes strong in last start
Own the Rocket's final start
MIAMI -- It was the Rocket's last glare Wednesday night and he went out with his usual style. Flash bulbs popping and fans roaring. Even the hometown Marlins rooters and players took time out in a taut World Series game to give Roger Clemens his due as he started for the last time.
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Game 4 began for Clemens in inglorious fashion, but he left to a standing ovation after the seventh inning as cheers from 65,934 cascaded from the orange and teal colored seats in the rectangular football edifice called Pro Player Stadium.
"It was quite amazing," Clemens said after the Marlins won, 4-3, in 12 innings, tying the best-of-seven series at two games each. "I think everybody started realizing it was going to be my last inning, my last hitter and my last pitch. I got back to the dugout and Zim (coach Don Zimmer) and some of the guys pushed me back out on to the field. It was very nice. I'm very appreciative. It kind of hits you a little bit."
Clemens, a 310-game winner in his nearly 20-year career, was rocked for three runs and five hits as the Marlins took a 3-0, first-inning lead. It all came with two men out and nobody on as Clemens threw 42 pitches.
Clemens was trying to become the first 300-game winner to win a World Series game since Grover Cleveland Alexander won Games 2 and 6 of the 1926 series for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Yankees. Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Steve Carlton was the last 300-win hurler to try it, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series.
But Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer and Derrek Lee a run-scoring single. It could have been worse, but Clemens was the beneficiary of a close play at first base on Luis Castillo's one-out grounder to short. Derek Jeter's throw appeared to pull Jason Giambi off the bag, but umpire Ed Rapuano called Castillo out.
Ivan Rodriguez then singled to right, followed by Cabrera's blast into the right-field bleachers. The three-run inning was the Marlins' biggest of the World Series.
"Yeah, the only thing you're concerned about is everything that's going on around him, the emotion and all of it," manager Joe Torre said. "But it was a little mechanical. He just didn't look comfortable to me. That's the mark of a great pitcher when you give up a few like that in the first and you don't let it affect what you have to do from here on out."
Torre sent pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to the mound in the first inning and Jeter came over to Clemens and told him that the team would pick him up.
"Let's hold them right here and not give anything else," Jeter said, recalling the mound conversation. "He's been playing for a long time. I'm sure it was emotional for him."
Clemens settled down magnificently after that and allowed only two more singles and a double by Rodriguez through the next six innings. He left after seven, trailing, 3-1, having allowed the three runs on eight hits, walking none and striking out five. He threw 109 pitches, 76 of them for strikes and was taken off the hook as the loser when the Yanks came back to tie the score on Ruben Sierra's two-run, pinch-hit triple with two out in the ninth.
"It was great to see Roger end up the way he did," center fielder Bernie Williams said. "He threw a good game. We just weren't able to score a lot of runs for him, which is kind of sad. The most impressive part to me was that after he was done he stayed in the dugout cheering on the team. He was with us right there."
A called third strike on Castillo to end the seventh inning as flash bulbs popped all over the stadium may have been his last big-league pitch. Clemens gave the partisan crowd a curtain call, hopping out of the Yankees dugout along the third-base line to doff his cap and wave to the fans.
Even the Marlin players moved to the top step of the dugout and gave Clemens a hand: A baseball version of how hockey players tap their sticks on the ice in honor of a retiring great player.
"I thought it was unbelievable," Marlins two-time All-Star third baseman Mike Lowell said of clapping for Clemens. "I thought it was great. I thought it was well deserved. I thought it was very proper for the way his career has been. To be acknowledged by the players, the coaches, I think he deserves it. He's one of the greatest pitchers of our time. I think it was cool."
He was replaced in the game by Nick Johnson, who pinch-hit for Clemens to open the eighth, and grounded out. Johnson said he had goose bumps as he walked to the plate in the rising tumult, knowing that he'll always be the answer to a trivia question -- what player replaced Roger Clemens in his last big league game?
"I was just trying to concentrate and get to the plate," Johnson said. "The reaction of the fans was something -- even on the road. It just shows the respect they have for him. Everyone loves Roger Clemens."
Although Clemens professes a profound distaste for hitting, he produced a single of his own, leading off the fifth inning with a looping liner over the head of shortstop Alex Gonzalez and into left field. He was later erased on Jeter's double-play grounder that ended the inning. For Clemens, batting in the National League park in lieu of the designated hitter, it was his first hit in his eighth World Series at-bat.
Clemens gave no ground, either, sliding into second base where Gonzalez took the throw at the pivot from Castillo.
"I didn't really care if the ball hit me or not," Clemens said. "I kind of closed my eyes and hit the dirt and just slid. You never know what can happen."
The start was the 26th for Clemens in the playoffs, seventh in the World Series and 632nd of his career. It was also his fourth at Pro Player Stadium.
It somewhat mirrored Clemens' Game 7 start against Boston in the American League Championship Series against Pedro Martinez when the 41-year-old right-hander couldn't get out of the fourth inning. He allowed four runs on six hits, including homers by Trot Nixon and Kevin Millar, and left trailing, 4-0. The Yankees, though, came back to win the game and the pennant, 6-5, in 11 innings on Aaron Boone's walk-off homer.
Clemens could come back and start a possible Game 7 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, but Torre said he would only use him out of the bullpen.
"Joe's already mentioned that to me. I'll be in the pen there late," Clemens said. "I'll be ready for that. I've been in the pen before in the playoffs. I haven't been used. I think I pitched one time in my career out of the bullpen."
Clemens has made four starts this postseason and in the first two he was nearly flawless. He defeated the Twins in the AL Division Series and the Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS. The latter also pitted him against Martinez in a game that was filled with brushbacks and on-field altercations.
Clemens lasted six innings, allowing two runs on five hits in that one as the Yankees went on to win, 4-3.
"If there's one game I'll remember, that was it," Torre said. "This one was warlike. He held up his end on the road, at Fenway Park, and I'll always remember that game."
Clemens closed out the 1999 World Series, his first with the Yankees, by defeating the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 at New York, and earned his second ring when the Yankees beat the Mets in five games a year later. He was 3-0 in his six previous World Series starts for New York and Boston with a 1.56 ERA and 43 strikeouts.
It took Yankees fans several seasons before they warmed up to Clemens because of his Red Sox roots. He was traded to the Yankees in early 1999 in the deal that sent David Wells to Toronto.
"I'm glad that he had the chance to do it here," Torre said. "When he first came here, people didn't care for him because we traded Boomer (Wells) for him. He was sort of robotic, and I don't think the New York fans cared for him that much, because Boomer had that blue-collar thing. Since then, Roger has won them over with his personality, his pitching and his unselfishness with regards to his teammates."
It's the fifth time for Clemens in the World Series -- 1986 with the Red Sox, and 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003 for the Yankees. His first professional start came in 1983 at Winter Haven, Fla., and he made his first Major League start a year later for the Red Sox in Cleveland. Along the way he has won the AL's Cy Young Award six times and struck out 4,099 batters.
This season, he won his 300th game and recorded his 4,000th strikeout on the same night at Yankee Stadium -- June 13 in a 5-2 win over the Cardinals. And by now, though, after five seasons in New York, he is well accepted as a Yankee.
"It's something that he won the fans over," Wells said. "If you can win Yankee fans over, you can win anybody over. He goes out there and does his job, pitches well, and that's what they respect. They want us to go out there and do well. And if they don't, the fans will let you know it and the media will let you know it."
In the end, the Rocket's last glare was no mere flameout. Seated in the interview room answering questions into the wee hours of the morning, Clemens was surrounded by his wife, Debbie, and four fair-haired boys -- Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody.
In a gesture that punctuated the evening, Clemens asked his sons if they had anything to add.
"Thank you for watching my dad for the last 40 years, I mean 20 years," said Kacy, age nine. "And we'll take it from here."
Clemens always does.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.