- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

It was the night of July31, 1993, and Roger Clemens was beginning to give off signals that he might be nearing the end. He had just turned 31, was in the midst of a wretched 11-14/4.46 ERA season for the Red Sox, and in this particular game was being outpitched by young Ben McDonald of the Orioles — the latest in the Next Clemens line.

At some point, the discussion in the Camden Yards press box turned to the Rocket’s Cooperstown worthiness. “If he never won another game, would you put him in the Hall?” the writer sitting next to me asked.

“Absolutely, under the Sandy Koufax Clause if nothing else,” I replied. “The guy has won three Cy Youngs and an MVP Award. He’s struck out 20 batters in a game. How do you keep him out?”

“Eight postseason starts, one win,” the writer harrumphed. “Koufax was at his best in the World Series, just shut teams down. How many times has Clemens delivered when it really mattered?”

In light of subsequent events, it’s hard to believe we ever had such a discussion. As it turns out, that 4-0 loss to the O’s wasn’t the twilight of Roger’s career, it was the midpoint, almost. And amazingly, his second act has been even more glorious than his first.

Consider: At the end of that game, Clemens had a 161-79 lifetime record (with the aforementioned three Cys and one postseason victory). Since then, he’s gone 167-85 (with four Cys and nine postseason victories, including a 3-0 World Series mark).

He’s also had a second 20-strikeout game, an 18K game, a 16K game and two 15K games.

Not that anyone’s counting.

Tuesday’s announcement was the coup de grace. After coming out of retirement to go 18-4 for his hometown Astros — and nearly pitch them to their first Series — Clemens was awarded Cy No.7. Which raises a much different question than the one that was batted around back in July 1993: How many more wins do you suppose Rocket would rack up if he just kept going and didn’t decide (as many expect him to) to saunter off into the sunset?

He’s tied for 10th on the all-time list with 328. Could he possibly reach 364, which would push him past Warren Spahn and make him the winningest pitcher since World War II?

It’s hard to judge these things, because a pitcher like Clemens really has no frame of reference. But let’s use Nolan Ryan anyway. Ryan won 35 games after he turned 42; Clemens, whose 42nd birthday was Aug.4, has won six. Add 29 more victories to Rocket’s total (35 minus six), and he would have 357 — a mere half-dozen fewer than Spahnie.

But again, comparing Clemens to Ryan — or to any of his contemporaries, for that matter — is problematical. Nolan, remember, doesn’t have any Cy Young Awards on his mantle. (Indeed, he finished second just once). He also won more than 16 games only four times in 27 seasons; Clemens has done it 12 times. And get this: Not only does Rocket have four more victories than Ryan, he also has 128 fewer losses.

One more stat: Remember that figure I threw at you a bit ago — the fact that Clemens has won 167 games just since July31, 1993? Well, that’s almost as many as Curt Schilling (184) and Pedro Martinez (182) have won in their entire careers. And Schilling is just turning 38.

The flip side of the Clemens Miracle, of course, is: What happened to all the young pitchers? I mean, not only did a 42-year-old win the Cy Young in the National League, but a 41-year-old — Randy Johnson — finished second. (And when the American League award is announced today, Schilling should be no worse than runner-up.)

It’s a scandal. Rocket won Cys at the ages of 35, 36, 39 and now 42. Johnson won them at 36, 37, 38 and 39. Tom Glavine won one at 32. Martinez, meanwhile, hasn’t won a Cy since he was 28 (and may never see another).

And some of these other Young Guys!

• Roy Halladay wins a Cy and comes up with a sore shoulder.

• Barry Zito wins one and drops off the face of the earth.

• Josh Beckett flashes in the World Series and makes three trips to the DL the next season.

• Mark Prior gets Cubs fans excited and then runs into elbow trouble.

(I can hardly wait to see what calamity befalls Johan Santana.)

Which makes you appreciate Clemens all the more. Yup, Rocket has done pretty well for himself — for a pitcher who looked like he might be through back in ‘93.

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