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Clemens gets ball at crunch time10/15/2004 10:30 PM ET
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- When the going gets tough, Houston turns to Roger Clemens.
Down, 2-0, in the best-of-seven series, the Astros are counting on the six-time Cy Young Award winner to get the team back on track in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against St. Louis on Saturday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
"I've been in this position before, and, I mean, it's no different than I think I can find a number of situations. They might not be playoff situations, but I've been in pretty tough situations where you're backed in the corner," Clemens said. "I think that I would expect to be anxious tomorrow. Last night is my most important night of sleep, and I didn't get much of it.
"On the plane, you kind of process how you want things to work out and how you want to try and break down their lineup. Having pitched against them during the season and watched them the first two games, you process that. I'm sure I'll be anxious and I'll have to make good pitches. I hope my body responds. I think that's the most important thing, that my body reacts the way I want it to. So when I need a pitch in a certain location with a certain velocity or whatever I'm trying to do at that point in time [with] my body, I'm able to do that."
Clemens pitched on three days' rest in his last start, Game 4 of the NLDS against Atlanta. He had been recuperating from stomach flu and wasn't as strong as in his previous starts. This time he will be pitching on five days' rest.
"My legs so far have been responding well, they've stayed under me," Clemens said. "They did fatigue a little bit when I came back on that short days' rest. But there were some tough innings there that I had to push a little harder off the mound and do some things with my lower half that I just wasn't afforded to sit back and conserve some energy."
Astros manager Phil Garner will monitor Clemens closely. Garner, however, isn't concerned about the right-hander.
"Rocket, I asked him to come back on four days' rest, he did a good job for us," Garner said. "I think he is going to be OK. He is getting an extra day this time. I ask a lot of him, but I know that he'll be mentally prepared, and physically, I think he'll be OK. But he'll give us everything he's got, I'm sure of that.
"He's had an absolutely terrific year for us this year, and we're going to count on him to do it a couple more times."
The Cardinals will send right-hander Jeff Suppan to the mound. Suppan, a 16-game winner, also contributed the clinching victory in the NLDS victory over Los Angeles.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa believes a pitcher can sometimes be positively affected when matched up against a talent like Clemens.
"The pitcher on the other side, he's out there pitching for his life, he knows he can't give up anything," La Russa said. "When [Clemens] retired, I thought he was done. I thought it was a great way to finish. But, you know, sometimes there's circumstances that change, especially the great ones. Circumstances changed. It wasn't the best news of the offseason when he comes in our division for a club like the Astros. That was one unhappy day. Just like tomorrow is not our happiest day, with him pitching."
Suppan will also face a tough task against a team that has won 19 of the last 20 games played at Minute Maid Park.
La Russa's Cardinals have scored 16 runs in two games. They have punished the Houston bullpen, hitting .345 against Astros relievers. The Cards will hope to get into the Houston bullpen again in Game 3, but first they have to get past Clemens.
"We've been pitching with the back of our hair on fire, trying to put it together any way we can," Clemens said. "The last two weeks, I think I've had my spikes on more than ever as far as maybe going to the bullpen to pitch an inning or a hit or an out or whatever. Roy [Oswalt] is the same way. I know some of the other guys on the staff are in the same situation, to offer help when we know as well as anybody that we're a little tired in some areas and beat up in other areas. But we continue to push forward."
Clemens has allowed seven earned runs in 30 2/3 innings against St. Louis this season for a 2.05 ERA. Most of the innings came before St. Louis added Larry Walker to the lineup.
"They can do it all. It's the type of lineup that, you know, there's six guys -- at least six guys -- in the lineup that can hurt you with the long ball if you make a mistake," Clemens said. "Obviously, every hitter in the lineup can take you out of the ballpark -- take you out of this ballpark, anyway. You'll have to make pitches throughout that lineup, and that's the bottom line."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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