05/14/2002 11:11 pm ET
Clemens' rise continues
Rocket ties Robin Roberts with 286th victory
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Another start, another step up in the record books for Roger Clemens. And with every step up in the record books, there is more reading for Clemens to do.
Clemens, who won his sixth game of the season with New York's 10-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Tuesday, tied Robin Roberts for 23rd on the all-time wins list with 286. Clemens, who will tie and pass Bert Blyleven (287) and Tommy John (288) with his next three wins, has tried to learn all he can about the men he has passed this season.
So far, he has surpassed Jim Kaat, Ferguson Jenkins and Tony Mullane on the wins list, as he stands just 14 wins from the magic number of 300. Kaat and Jenkins have been in touch with Clemens as he whisked by them, but Mullane, who pitched from 1881-1894, has been a little harder for the Rocket to get information on. That is, until some fans sent him some Internet printouts with information on the man known as the "Count."
"Some of these guys I don't know too much about, since they pitched in the 1800s, but to hear interesting stories about these guys is great," Clemens said. "It was pretty neat, some Yankee fans sent me some printouts and pictures with some information about him. It's pretty nice, stuff I can keep along the way and look at down the road. Robin Roberts is a little different -- I have an action shot of him."
Clemens, who suffered two of his three losses last season to Tampa Bay, has now defeated the Rays all three times he has faced them in 2002. Tuesday, he held them to one run on three hits, striking out eight over 6 2/3 innings to improve to 6-2.
"I just turned it loose, tried to keep the tempo working quick to get my guys off the field and out of that wind," Clemens said. "I wanted to get them up to the plate so they could get to work."
And that they did, bashing three home runs against Rays starter Travis Harper, including back-to-back solo shots by Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada in the fourth inning. That gave Clemens a 4-1 lead, and he took care of the rest.
"The key is that a lot of guys are swinging the bats now," Clemens said. "The home runs are great, but the pitches that the other guys are leaving over the plate for mistakes, we're not missing them. We were fouling them back and missing them before, and now the guys are seeing them and handling the ball real well."
Clemens has won his last five starts, lowering his ERA from 6.46 to 3.77 in the five outings. He has gone at least 6 2/3 innings in each of his last six starts, something that pleases his manager.
"That's what we really expect from our starters, and they've been pretty consistent," said Joe Torre. "We've been able to keep their pitch counts down because they're throwing a lot of strikes. Roger had that one inning where his pitch count went up and they scored their run, but other than that, he was very economical with his pitches."
Clemens' only trouble on Tuesday came in the fourth, when the Rays used two singles and a stolen base to manufacture their first run. That came after the Rocket sat down the first 10 Tampa Bay batters he faced.
"He got behind some counts and had to work a little harder," Torre said of the fourth. "Every pitcher is going to have one of those innings -- even the great pitchers. There's always one inning in there where they struggle."
Clemens sent the Rays down in order in the fifth and sixth, but ran into some trouble in the seventh, giving up a leadoff single and a two-out walk, prompting Torre to call on Steve Karsay to put out the fire. Clemens said he was happy with his outing, but was disappointed he couldn't get out of the seventh.
"Body-wise, I feel good," Clemens said. "But I'd like to be going deeper into games."
"Roger pitched well. I wouldn’t say there was a lack of hitting on our part, I thought he just pitched well," said Rays manager Hal McRae. "It was a case of Clemens pitching well enough to shut us down."
The Rocket's teammates are perfectly happy with the performance that Clemens is giving them, particularly Jason Giambi.
"Rocket went out there and pitched an unbelievable game," Giambi said. "He set the pace in the first inning by dominating. We felt like we just had to put a few runs on the board and he'd take care of the rest.
"Night after night, what he does on the mound is absolutely amazing, especially at his age. It's a credit to his work ethic, and his mental attitude is unbelievable," added Giambi. "He's young at heart and in his mind, and that's the biggest thing. He overcomes his age with his mental makeup on the mound, which is second to none."
At 39, Clemens is clearly in the twilight of his Hall-of-Fame career. Right? Only Clemens knows the answer to that question, but says he's not thinking that far into the future just yet. For now, he's got that magic number in his sight.
"Let's not look that far ahead," Clemens said. "The easiest thing to think about is the opportunity and privilege to chase down some great names that I have this year. Having the chance to come out here and pitch for this caliber of a team makes it more special. The pressure is on you to win, to go out and perform. I enjoy those challenges."
Torre thinks that Clemens may actually be ahead of where he was last year at this time, when he was pitching his way to another Cy Young.
"I think he's ahead -- knock on wood," said Torre, knocking on his office desk. "I think the quality of his stuff is better this year as compared to last year as far as consistency."
If he continues to pitch at his current level, Clemens will have a shot at 20 wins this year, which would put him at 300.
"I think that he's having fun. That's the key with Roger -- as long as he's having fun, he'll keep doing his thing," Torre said. "He's really made an impact on this game, and what he's done for us in the last few years has been terrific."
Mark Feinsand covers the Yankees for MLB.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.