By Derrick Goold
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
HOUSTON- The Pecos Bill of the mound, a John Wayne in cleats, a Paul Bunyan with his blue-hot fastball, righthander Roger "Rocket" Clemens came to his hometown team toting six Cy Young Awards and was already a figure of Texas-sized proportions.
Now, with each outing possibly his last, the legend grows as he faces the Cardinals today in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
Think of the tales of yore that come to the mound with Clemens. The eye black, the temperamental, fireballing years at Fenway Park. His sons, all of whose names start with K, and the 4,500 other K's he has in his Hall of Fame career. The four Cy Youngs and two World Series titles that followed his departure from Boston. His retirement, as a Yankee, after 2003. His return to pitch for his hometown Astros. All well-known chapters of his career.
"What Roger has accomplished is absolutely phenomenal - the longevity and to be good over a long period of time is a trademark of a true Hall of Famer," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "Then I think you've got to put a special wing in the Hall of Fame for the Rocket. ... Who knows how that is going to turn out, but our kids will be reading about the Rocket for a number of years to come. People will write stories about it, books about it, and they will write essays in high schools about him."
This season may be the tallest tale of them all.
Coaxed out of retirement for the second consecutive season, Clemens, at 43, had the lowest ERA in the majors and was a candidate to win his eighth Cy Young. On the day his mother, Bess, died, he pitched in the midst of the wild-card race and held Florida to one earned run over 6 1/3 innings to get the win.
Less than a week ago, the Astros were locked in an extra-inning tussle with Atlanta in the first round. He volunteered to go to the bullpen, entered in the 16th inning and allowed just one hit over three innings as the Astros won in the 18th. It was his first relief appearance since his rookie season, 21 years ago. Garner said he doubts he could "have gotten the ball out of (Clemens') hand. It was his game."
One for the ages from the aged.
"You know, things have changed for me over the last couple weeks," Clemens said. "There's a big part of my heart that's missing now with my mother gone. That's just the way it is. I knew I pitched for her, but I didn't realize how much that I did.
"Every time I hear the anthem, I think about her. I think about seeing her face for the last time, and that's where I'm trying to draw my strength from. I owe that to my teammates."