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Garner's faith in Clemens is strong10/09/2004 12:52 PM ET
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Astros manager Phil Garner knows the numbers. But he also knows Roger Clemens.
"I'm fully aware of all the stats out there," Garner said. "Bottom line is: That's Roger Clemens. I'm going to use him."
Even if it means using him on three days' rest. Clemens, who started and won Game 1 for the Astros, is penciled in to start Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
At 42 years old, Clemens just became the oldest pitcher ever to win a postseason game. But he has had mixed results throughout his career on three days' rest, going 6-4 with a 4.74 ERA in 11 such situations. He has lost three of his last four decisions in those games.
Garner's options were limited. Had Clemens not given a thumbs up, the only other candidate to start Game 4 was right-hander Pete Munro, who was 4-7 with a 5.27 ERA as a starter during the regular season.
As it is, Brandon Backe was tabbed to start Game 3. It was Backe's 10th big league start.
"Our staff is what it is," Clemens said. "A month ago I was out there bunting [in batting practice] with the guys and looking around, it was Roy [Oswalt] and I and three other guys in on-the-job training.
"If I was 24, I might worry about it. But I'm the elder statesman, so use me. I need to be out there working. I'm not worried about my arm, not worried about my body. I don't want to be sitting on the sidelines while everything is unfolding."
That was exactly Garner's concern.
"I would hate for something to happen in this series and have one of the greatest pitchers in our era still sitting on the bench," Garner said.
In other words, if the Braves were going to sweep both games in Houston to advance to the NL Championship Series, they would have to go through Clemens.
"You've got to let him have the ball," Garner said.
To get ready, Clemens cut his famously regimented between-starts program "about in half." Adjusting on the fly is nothing new for Clemens in this series.
He started Game 1 in Atlanta having been scratched three days earlier because of a stomach flu that sapped his strength. Clemens gutted his way through seven effective innings and held the Braves to three runs, two of them earned. He was actually more effective after the fifth inning in that game.
"My cardio routine, I'll step up a little bit just to make sure I flush my body out so my legs react the way they're supposed to and my arm is quick and ready to fire," Clemens said. "You get into a playoff situation with the crowd we're going to have here, it'll substitute for anything that I'm lacking, I'm sure."
It was the same story on Wednesday.
"My body couldn't feel any worse than it did," Clemens said. "I would expect to feel a little bit stronger each day. I feel stronger."
Clemens has not worked on three days' rest since April 11, 2002, when he filled in for Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and surrendered six runs, five earned, on eight hits in five innings of an eventual 11-3 Yankees loss at Toronto. In the start before that, Clemens threw 92 pitches and dominated Tampa Bay over 7 1/3 innings of a win.
This time, Clemens is coming off a 117-pitch effort in Atlanta. He labored throughout, surrendering six hits and six walks -- a career postseason high -- but at 42 years old became the oldest pitcher ever to win a playoff game.
"The fact that Roger labored in that last game, I think it's a bigger challenge for him to come back on short rest than it is Roy," said Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, a former Astro who was on hand Saturday. "But also, Roger's such a unique individual, that the competitor that he is, to me that's not a factor. When it's time for the big game, he'll be ready for it. That's just the nature of his competitiveness and his experience. He'll be ready."
Will the Braves alter their offensive approach?
"We did a good job of getting on base, we just didn't do a very good job of getting them in," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Roger, when he got in trouble, he just got out of it easily. ... He's tough. I think once you get a pitch to hit, if you see it, you'd better hit it."
Clemens showed up for his pre-start press conference on Saturday wearing a University of Texas cap. He was scheduled to face Atlanta right-hander Russ Ortiz, a University of Oklahoma grad.
Ortiz's Sooners had the upper hand in the Red River Shootout on Saturday, handing the UT football team a 12-0 loss. Clemens, who said before the game, "I've got my fingers crossed and my toes crossed, too," will try to avenge that loss on Sunday.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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