Mission aborted for Rocket
Clemens optimistic he'll be wearing pinstripes soon
BOSTON -- Throughout all of their low points -- and there have been many -- since May 6, the Yankees could at least rally around one reminder: Roger Clemens was on his way. If not to save the day, at least to make one out of every five days worth anticipating.In their latest moment of need, the Yankees didn't even have that. Midway through Saturday's chaotic game against the Red Sox, that carrot was yanked away from them. Instead, it joined the ugly 11-6 loss in an emotional piling on. Clemens will not, as planned, be making his return start on Monday at the White Sox's U.S. Cellular Field. It's not the first time "mission aborted" has stopped a Rocket countdown, but Cape Canaveral was never trying to get back into a pennant race. More "minor" interruptions. After tracking his progress in three get-ready Minor League starts, the Yankees now have to monitor the minor right groin tweak Clemens felt in his most recent outing, which he hasn't been able to shake. OK, New York fans, we'll get to the "good news" portion of this right away: This setback means that, assuming the injury is as routine and short-term as advertised, Clemens will now make his return in Yankee Stadium during the nine-game Interleague homestand that follows the upcoming four-game set in Chicago. But, for now, Roger is joining the 2007 Yankees' litany, not their rotation. "We've gone down this route already," said Brian Cashman, the general manager of a team which has already been through 11 different starters. "We'll have a starter on Monday. "Every day it's about making adjustments on the run. It's as simple as that." This appears a little more complex, even aside from the fact the air was suddenly sucked out of a month-long buildup. Although Clemens has a history of groin problems, a logical consequence of the legendary thrust he gets from his powerful legs, the source of this episode wasn't pinpointed. Cashman had personally scouted his latest tune-up, on Monday with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and thought he had noticed something early in Clemens' six-inning blanking of Toledo. "He struck out the last batter in the first inning and kind of hopped off the mound," Cashman recalled. "But I asked him about it afterwards, and he said no, that was nothing."
And, given his age and even the Yankees' plight -- they again fell 13 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox -- even the prospect of Clemens never again appearing in pinstripes came up.Specifically addressing whether a groin injury could prove career-ending to someone who will turn 45 in two months, Cashman said, "I'd be very surprised if that was the case. I guess a groin injury could end a career, but I trust this player, and he sounded like he didn't think this was a big deal." Cashman also cited trust when asked about any possible concerns that Clemens merely needed time to re-evaluate his decision to return to the Bronx. The Yankees were 5 1/2 games out of first place when he came to contract terms on May 6, drawn by the single-minded purpose of pitching in yet another World Series. "He is a Minor Leaguer. There are no obligations. He could shut it down at any time," said Cashman, characterizing Clemens' status until he is officially added to the 25-man roster. "I just think this man is honest. He would tell me exactly what he is feeling." And the only thing Clemens felt midday Saturday, after trying to throw on flat ground, was enough discomfort in the groin area to dissuade him from taking the mound on Monday. Instead of being in Chicago that day, he will be in Tampa, Fla., undergoing tests and treatment at the Yankees' complex. A couple hours before Saturday's game here, manager Joe Torre sat on the visitors' bench, during his regular briefing with reporters, informing them that Clemens remained on schedule for Monday's start. At approximately the same time, Cashman's cell phone rang. "Fatigued groin," Cashman heard. "What to do about Monday?" Cashman thought. "My mind started racing about that, so we didn't talk long," Cashman related after the game. "I do know he felt pretty optimistic, that it wasn't something of a big deal. I can only convey his thoughts." Torre had learned of Clemens' tenuous status on Friday, but did not know that he was out for sure until returning to his office following the media session. "We were cautioned about it [Friday]," Torre said. "Fatigued groin ... it's something he's had throughout his career." Torre appeared to take the news well, as did his players who, admittedly, had more immediate issues. "We aren't waiting around for anybody," said Derek Jeter. "The people here have to play." So, after so many mishaps to their starting pitchers, the Yankees easily rolled with this one. But while they have had numerous pitchers go down in action, this is the first time they have lost one in transit. "We keep replacing them," Torre said with a wry smile. "That's part of the baseball season. The luck involved in a season is in being able to stay healthy. "You can't bemoan it. You keep going out there, and do what you can." With whoever you have. These Yankees haven't been very successful, as the standings reveal, but they have certainly been mutable.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.