Four-run sixth gives Rocket the win
Clemens helps own cause with unusual double play in third
NEW YORK -- It was hatched on the back fields of a sunny complex in Tampa, Fla., some four years ago, a reaction play designed to catch opposing baserunners off guard. Even the Yankees wound up being caught by surprise.
Roger Clemens pitched six strong innings and flashed some trickery in pulling off a spiffy infield double play. Bobby Abreu and Jorge Posada also homered as the Yankees defeated the Tigers on Saturday, 5-2.
"It changed the whole game," Posada said. "It's just one of those things where you try to catch somebody off guard. We did."
Without a trigger from the dugout, the memorable play came together as a perfect storm in the third inning, with Cameron Maybin running for second base on a swinging strikeout of Marcus Thames.
Posada came up throwing, but Clemens lunged to his left and cut off the low throw, pinning Brandon Inge in a scramble between third base and home plate to record a most unusual double play.
As Clemens, who joined the Yankees in early June, would later kiddingly tell Posada: Spring Training is overrated.
"We worked on that in 2002 [and] 2003 on the back fields in Tampa," Clemens said. "And it paid off. I'm just fortunate. He threw a head-high ball and I was clearing, and I was able to grab it and make a good rundown."
The play was strange, but not completely unique. It was the first time such a putout -- catcher to pitcher -- had been recorded on a caught stealing since 1986, when the Cardinals' Vince Coleman was nabbed by the Giants' Juan Berenguer.
"We can put it in our playbook from now on," Torre said.
For Clemens, who earned his 353rd career win, it proved to be a microcosm of his ability to execute damage control. The right-hander scattered 10 hits while walking none and tying a season high with eight strikeouts, including his 1,000th whiff as a Yankee, which made him the 10th pitcher in franchise history to reach that mark.
With a four-run Yankees rally coming in the bottom of the inning, Clemens escaped a tight bases-loaded spot in the sixth after a hit off Alex Rodriguez's glove, a clean single to center and a hit-by-pitch. A tiring Clemens used his 108th pitch to pop up Curtis Granderson to shortstop, dodging the big inning.
"[With a] man at third base and less than two out, I don't remember anybody as good as him," Torre said. "For some reason, he always manages to do the high-wire act and escape. That comes down to keeping your composure when you need to."
After five innings of surviving on Posada's second-inning solo shot and little else, the Yankees' offense came alive against Detroit starter Chad Durbin. On the seventh pitch of a lengthy at-bat that included four foul balls, Abreu clubbed his 14th home run, a two-run shot that clanged off the left-field foul pole and ricocheted into the seats.
"[Abreu] basically fouled, fouled, fouled, and then [Durbin] threw some good fastballs and he was able to foul those off," Torre said. "I think that was a big key for him in that at-bat. You're lucky with that ball down the left-field line."
Robinson Cano and Andy Phillips tacked on run-scoring singles to left, extending the Yankees' lead and closing the book on Durbin's start. The right-hander was charged with four runs and six hits in five-plus innings, walking one and striking out one.
The timing of New York's rally put Clemens in position to earn his fifth victory of the season. He was touched most notably by the 20-year-old Maybin, who logged his first Major League hit in the third inning, then homered in the fifth off Clemens, a straightaway shot that bounced off the black seating area beyond the center-field wall.
"That's not bad, getting your first two hits and a home run off Roger Clemens," Torre said. "That's pretty impressive, you can tell people."
Ryan Raburn's fourth-inning sacrifice fly accounted for Detroit's other run. Entering with a three-run lead but receiving vociferous boos, Kyle Farnsworth turned jeers to cheers by firing his fourth consecutive scoreless effort, a 1-2-3 seventh inning that included two strikeouts.
Farnsworth's victims included former Yankee Gary Sheffield, who has received even more negative reaction than the beleaguered reliever during his return to the Bronx.
After falling out of favor for his eighth-inning role after extended struggles, Farnsworth appears to be working his way back into Torre's good graces. He said that the positive reaction was a welcome change of pace.
"It's good. I definitely want people to cheer for me," Farnsworth said. "It's not fun going out there and getting booed all the time, but you have to go with the good and bad, so I just want to go out there and keep doing what I'm capable of doing."
Luis Vizcaino pitched the eighth before handing the ball off to a rested Mariano Rivera for the ninth inning, securing his 20th save and shrugging off a blown save and a loss earlier in the week.
"I don't have to prove or show anybody," Rivera said. "I know what I can do, and that's the way it is."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.