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Dierker: A real Rocket
10/06/2004 8:35 PM ET
It is remarkable that Roger Clemens, at age 42, is able to keep winning games as if he were in his prime.

This year, he won 18 during the regular season and now has 328 total, not counting postseason games. As extraordinary as this seems, it is even more amazing that he has lost only 164 games. That gives him a .667 winning percentage, a mark that is second only to Pedro Martinez among active pitchers.

To find a semi-modern pitcher with a better winning percentage you have to go back to Whitey Ford, and he only won 236 games. The only 300-game winner with a better record is Lefty Grove, and he finished his career in 1941.

"Refuse to lose" has become an overused expression, but there is no better way to describe Roger Clemens.

The Astros' opening game of the NLDS in Atlanta was a perfect example of this trait. The Braves had him on the hook in the early going, but he kept spitting the bait. They couldn't land him. No, he did not have his best stuff. In most of his starts this year he has had better control. And, he had to know that he has never won the opening game of a postseason series and that the Astros needed a win badly to shrug off their playoff nemesis, the Atlanta Braves.

Roger has been a better pitcher at Minute Maid Park than on the road this year, but in spite of all these odds, he simply pitched a marvelous game and got his team off to a flying start. The announcers kept talking about how he was deathly ill, but he was not. Sure, he had a stomach ailment that required him to take fluids intravenously on Sunday, but this is Wednesday and he is a warrior. My guess is that his lack of command in the early going was due more to a few extra days between starts than his illness.

Still, Roger is no spring chicken and he has already pitched well over 200 innings this year. Since I remember what it was like to be 42 years old and also pitched over 200 innings a few times (when I was in my 20s), I probably appreciate what he has done even more than the average fan.

No, he is not as good a strikeout pitcher as Nolan Ryan, and Nolan was just as competitive at age 42, but Roger is a better all-around pitcher. He has several pitches he can strike you out with. He also has several pitches he can get a double play with. In the game against the Braves, he walked six batters, which made it look a little more like one of Ryan's games. But Nolan just about had to strike batters out to get out of trouble, while Roger can snuff a rally any number of ways.

   Roger Clemens  /   P
Born: 08/04/62
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 235 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

In the top of the seventh inning, Juan Cruz hit Astros center fielder Carlos Beltran with a pitch, and Beltran had to come out of the game after going 3-for-3 with a home run, a stolen base and three runs scored. Cruz may not have been throwing at Beltran, but it sure looked suspicious.

The announcers speculated that if Roger got the first two outs in the bottom of the seventh, he would retaliate against Braves center fielder, Andruw Jones. Jones apparently was thinking the same thing, and with Roger's reputation, I can't say I blame him. The at-bat was funny to me because it seemed like Jones was more interested in not getting hit than getting a hit. He struck out with a feeble swing at a 3-2 pitch.

I guess the only thing that has surprised me about Clemens this year is that he did not pitch inside nearly as much as I thought he would, and he never got the team involved in a knockdown war. After the many incidents that have punctuated his storied career, I expected to see a throwing contest sometime during the season. It never happened.

But I'm pretty sure that fire is still burning, and I still think it could happen if the Astros advance and he gets a few more starts. The main reason it hasn't happened this season is that the opposing pitchers have minded their manners.

If I were pitching against him, I would mind my manners, too. And no matter how well I pitched, I know I would have a hard time pinning a loss on The Rocket.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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