Saturday, June 09, 2007

Clemens Claims 349th Career Win in 07 Debut

NY Yankees 9, Pittsburgh 3

June 9, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Rocket returned with a win.

Roger Clemens shook off some early rust and gave the surging New York Yankees the lift they were looking for, leading them to a 9-3 victory Saturday over the Pittsburgh Pirates in his long-awaited season debut.

Pitching in pinstripes for the first time in four years, Clemens labored through the first few innings but got more effective as the afternoon wore on. He struck out seven in six solid innings and retired his final seven batters, leaving with a signature fist pump just before receiving a playful tap on the rear from Derek Jeter.

Making his latest comeback, the 44-year-old Clemens allowed three runs, five hits and two walks against the punchless Pirates, who entered with the lowest on-base percentage in the National League (.312).

Alex Rodriguez drove in two runs for the Yankees, who have won a season-best five straight and eight of 10 overall. Robinson Cano had three hits.

After spending the past three seasons with his hometown Houston Astros, Clemens came out of retirement again when he agreed May 6 to a prorated, one-year contract with the Yankees worth $28,000,022 -- the last two digits matching his uniform number.

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner had three tuneups in the minors and was originally scheduled to return to the Yankees last Monday at the Chicago White Sox, but his outing was pushed back because of an ailing groin.

Clemens, who helped New York to two World Series titles and four AL pennants from 1999-2003, got a huge hand from the sellout crowd of 54,296 as he walked to the mound. Just before the first pitch, Jeter came in from shortstop for a quick chat and a pat on the chest.

Clemens struck out Ryan Doumit with his 108th and final pitch, pumped his fist in familiar fashion and then walked slowly to the dugout as Elton John's "Rocket Man" played over the loudspeakers. Jeter ran up behind him, spun excitedly and tapped him with his glove.

That's the kind of spark and enthusiasm the Yankees (29-31) hoped Clemens' presence would provide after they slumped through the first third of the season.

For one day at least, it did.

"This is the start of something we hope will be very special for us the rest of the way, at a point in our season where we think we're making a statement about who we are," manager Joe Torre said.

Though his low 90s mph fastball was far from overpowering, Clemens (1-0) earned his 349th win -- eighth on the career list. He finished the day with 4,611 career strikeouts, passing Randy Johnson for second place behind Nolan Ryan (5,714).

The Rocket, who dominated the Pirates while with Houston, also improved to 6-1 in nine starts against Pittsburgh.

Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino finished up with scoreless relief.

Clemens gave up a clean single in the first to leadoff batter Jose Bautista, who advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Adam LaRoche's two-out single.

The Yankees quickly gave Clemens a 3-1 lead in the bottom half. Jeter's double put runners at second and third before Rodriguez hit an RBI groundout. Jeter scored on Jorge Posada's single, and Cano added an RBI single off Paul Maholm (2-9).

Clemens couldn't hold it. With two outs in the fourth, he walked light-hitting Ronny Paulino before Jack Wilson hit a two-run double over right fielder Bobby Abreu's head to tie it 3-all.

Posada's bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fifth put the Yankees ahead, and they made it 6-3 in the sixth on Abreu's RBI single and Rodriguez's sacrifice fly off John Grabow.

Center fielder Melky Cabrera made a leaping catch to take away extra bases -- and possibly a home run -- from Paulino in the seventh.

Cano opened the bottom half with a double and the Yankees added two runs on a throwing error by left fielder Jason Bay and an RBI grounder by Johnny Damon.

Maholm dropped to 0-5 in his past six starts.


The Pirates placed reliever Salomon Torres on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow and purchased the contract of RHP Masumi Kuwata from Triple-A Indianapolis. The 39-year-old Kuwata was a famous starter in Japan, but he will work out of Pittsburgh's bullpen. He missed the first two months of the season after injuring his ankle in a March 26 spring training collision with umpire Wally Bell. ... To make roster room for Clemens, the Yankees optioned reliever Chris Britton to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and transferred rookie RHP Phil Hughes (strained left hamstring) from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL. ... The Yankees pulled off a pair of double steals in the sixth and hit three sacrifice flies overall.

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