Sunday, June 10, 2007
Kevin Kernan: The Family Plan
ROG'S WIFE, SONS WATCH WORKMANLIKE RETURN
June 10, 2007 -- ROGER Clemens' first day back at Yankee Stadium began with a cell phone call. As Clemens walked down the hallway that leads to the clubhouse at 9:34 yesterday morning, he was enjoying the role of proud father.
Clemens was speaking to his oldest son, Koby, congratulating him on the first grand slam of his professional career.
Koby, playing for Roger's old minor-league team, the Single-A Lexington Legends, hit the grand slam Friday night against the West Virginia Power.
This was the "Family Plan" at work, a grand slam for the oldest son and a win for dad, No. 349, in less than 24 hours.
"That's a good day," Rocket said as he walked out of the Stadium after the Yankees' 9-3 victory over the Pirates.
Clemens persevered through six innings and allowed three runs. All the talk about command doesn't matter now, just Ws.
Clemens stopped to sign a few autographs with his two youngest sons, Kacy and Kody, 11, in tow. Kacy, who will be 13 in July, was wearing an Alex Rodriguez jersey. His mother, Debbie, explained Kacy and A-Rod share the same birthday, July 27.
"Roger and I were following Koby's game on the computer [Friday night], and it was just awesome and it was kind of lucky because we're never really together," said Debbie, who watched yesterday's game at the Stadium with family friend Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.
As for being back in New York, Debbie said, "I can't believe it's been four years. It's a great feeling to be back. The boys were very excited."
There is something to be excited about because the Yankees won their fifth straight game. This was not Vintage Rocket (those days may never return), but it was Winning Rocket, and right now that's all that matters to the Yankees. They need wins, no matter who they come against.
The scoreboard radar gun proclaimed on several occasions Clemens had hit 92 mph, but that seemed a bit generous, especially if you were able to get a second row peek of the Rocket in the fourth inning when he surrendered a two-run double to Jack Wilson on a fastball up in the zone to tie the score 3-3.
Clemens dutifully backed up home plate on the hit and briefly showed some disgust with a light slap to the thigh. Derek Jeter then came to the mound to get Rocket grounded. Stop the bleeding. Clemens did just that, getting Chris Duffy to ground to first for the last out of the inning.
Clemens' pitching life now depends on location and keeping the hitter off balance. He clearly was not at his best yesterday, but as one scout said with a smile: "He's doing pretty good for somebody who has nothing right now."
Clemens will get better. He has to because the competition will get better.
Put it this way, in terms that everyone can understand, Clemens is way ahead of Carl Pavano. Pavano is now officially a Yankee memory. His parking space is gone, too. Pavano's No. 45 was painted over with black paint and replaced by the white No. 22 for the Rocket Mobile.
Pavano's vehicle was still in that spot, though, because, word is, he didn't leave his keys so his vehicle could be moved to the disabled lot. Clemens already has as many wins as Pavano has the last two years as a Yankee.
After the Yankees took back the lead in the bottom of the fifth, when Jeter scored on Jorge Posada's sacrifice fly, Clemens stormed through the sixth, striking out the last two batters he faced, Xavier Nady and Ryan Doumit. When he walked off the field to a standing ovation, Elton John's "Rocket Man" blared from the Stadium sound system. As teammate and good friend Andy Pettitte said of Clemens: "He's entertainment."
Clemens came into the dugout and fist-bumped his teammates. Rocket had done his job, a quality start; he left with a lead and his mere presence energized teammates who have been down too long, counting too heavily on rookie arms.
This wasn't a grand slam, but it was a good first step.