10/08/07 12:49 AM ET
Aggravated hamstring chases Rocket
Clemens exits in third frame, could be replaced on roster
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
That's become something of an October custom for Clemens, though the gravity of his current situation hints at more than just another false alarm. Clemens left Game 3 against the Indians on Sunday night after only 2 1/3 innings, re-aggravating the strained left hamstring that has hampered him throughout the past month and putting the remainder of his season -- and perhaps his career -- in jeopardy.
"I don't want to say it's heartbreaking, because he wouldn't want me to say that," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "But the way he goes out there, he was very unhappy when we took him out."
Clemens missed the last two weeks of the regular season with what he called a "stinger" in his left hamstring, and vowed at the time to be ready for the American League Division Series.
And he was. Sort of.
Clemens didn't exactly cruise, needing 27 pitches to finish the first inning, but at least he was on the mound -- and at least he was healthy. That changed when he felt a twinge in the second inning while fielding a foul bunt, which worried him enough to alert pitching coach Ron Guidry after the inning. Clemens tried to fend off the injury, winding a tight wrap around his leg.
It didn't work. The hamstring worsened, and with one out in the third inning, Torre replaced Clemens with rookie Phil Hughes. The Rocket finished having allowed three runs on four hits, walking two and striking out just one.
"You just feel it on every pitch," Clemens said. "You just grind through it. You slow down, give it a chance to relax and go to the next pitch if you can."
Problem was, he couldn't. Not effectively, at least. After Lofton's at-bat in the second, Clemens allowed three of the next six Indians to reach base.
And those might have been the last six batters he'll face.
There's little secret that the 45-year-old Clemens may not return next season. He announced his retirement back in 2003, and again in 2004, and has been on a farewell tour for the better part of this decade. And while he kept coming back and kept pitching effectively, the latter part of that formula has fizzled this season.
Torre said he's considering replacing Clemens on the Division Series roster, which would afford the Yankees another pitcher -- likely Ian Kennedy -- should the need for one arise. But under a new set of postseason rules, deactivating Clemens now would prevent the Yankees from using him again until the World Series.
Clemens said he would know more about the situation on Monday, but didn't discount the notion that he may be out of commission at least until the World Series. And the Yankees have a long road to travel before they can even think about preparing for that.
"I've been doing everything I could possibly do to get it right and to help the guys, but I'm not going to dwell on it," Clemens said. "I've had issues way before this start happened, and I pitched right through them. For me, it's part of it."
Clemens said he's had to scale back his daily workouts lately, because of the hamstring that's hampered him for much of September. Sunday's outing was his first start since Sept. 16 and only his second in the past month.
There's precedent here, too. While with the Astros, Clemens left Game 1 of the 2005 World Series after just two innings with a strain of the same left hamstring. He hadn't pitched a postseason game since -- until Sunday.
"I was hoping that the Rocket could take us into the sixth and pitch well," Hughes said. "I was hoping he was going to be huge for us as the postseason goes on, but unfortunately it doesn't work out that way."
It was the only misfortune of the night for a Yankees team that prevailed, thanks in large part to Hughes. And that's indeed some solace to a pitcher who may have just finished a Hall of Fame career.
There's no guarantee that Clemens will be back next year or ever, but there is now a guarantee that the Yankees will play another game. That's a prospect that just hours earlier had been as tenuous as the muscles in his leg.
"We fight another day," Clemens said. "And that's what the game plan was."
The Yankees just need to decide if Clemens remains a part of that plan, or has now become a part of their past.
Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.