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Clemens makes grand debut
NEW YORK (AP) — Roger Clemens popped out of the clubhouse in full uniform about 55 minutes before his first pitch yesterday, bouncing down a Yankee Stadium hallway with his cleats click-clacking on the cement floor.
The Rocket was antsy, excited — and a little rusty once he stepped on the mound. But he was good enough to win, and that’s all that matters to the New York Yankees.
“It’s just great to be back,” Clemens said, sitting at the postgame podium with his two youngest sons. “It felt like old times.”
Pitching in pinstripes for the first time in four years, Clemens labored through the first few innings but was 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).
“He’s not as sharp as he’s going to be,” New York manager Joe Torre said. “Certainly as we get down the road here, your expectations are higher for him.”
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 his teammate, spun excitedly and tapped him with his glove.
For one day at least, it did.
“It was awesome,” Rodriguez said. “I think all 24 guys were a little bit in awe. It was great.”
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 that outing was pushed back because of an ailing groin.
“My biggest hurdle was my legs today. I just don’t want to go backward with that,” Clemens said. “I expect to get stronger each time from here out.”
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