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05/06/07 11:54 PM ET

With Clemens gone, Astros can move on

Houston could've used help, but now focus turns elsewhere

The news that Roger Clemens had rejoined the New York Yankees put an end to the hopes the Houston Astros and their fans had of the seven-time Cy Young Award winner coming back for one more year with his hometown team, but the fact that the Yankees' rotation -- and not Houston's -- will be the beneficiary of this season's Rocket boost doesn't mean the Astros are about to throw in the towel.

Certainly, Clemens would have helped, just as he helped considerably last season even more than his 7-6 record and 113 1/3 innings indicate.

Even at a soon-to-be 45 years old, Clemens would have been an instant upgrade for the Astros staff, and perhaps the pivotal player to put them in the playoff picture from a National League Central that is wide open this year, Milwaukee's impressive start notwithstanding.

In the final analysis, however, all the perks and appeal of pitching at home were not enough to lure Clemens back to Minute Maid Park for one more go around. The Astros made their pitch, and Clemens walked.

The possibility that he would head back to the Bronx had loomed since the moment Andy Pettitte signed his two-year deal with the Yankees during the offseason, and yet the Astros held out hope it wouldn't come to this. Now that it has, they can move on.

For the Astros, Sunday's announcement was a significant setback, just as losing Pettitte was during the winter. But it would be a mistake to write off Houston as a result of this decision. The Astros were confident they had a team that could win before Clemens made up his mind, and his decision doesn't change that thinking.

Just because Roger's out doesn't mean it's roger and out for the Astros.

What the Rocket's choice means for Houston is that the Astros must try to improve some other way, their disappointment salved somewhat by the knowledge that the $22 million or so Clemens would have required can now be saved for a rainy day, the July trading session or the next Winter Meetings. Or perhaps another bat.

Besides, it's not like the Astros haven't bounced down this pothole-pocked road before.

As much as any other organization, the Astros have had to deal with disappointing defections in the past, starting with Nolan Ryan and continuing in recent years with Darryl Kile, Randy Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Pettitte and now Clemens.

Star free agents come and go, but the games go on. The losses have hurt, some certainly more than others, but in the end the Astros more often than not have found ways to keep winning.

Roger Clemens

Kile went 19-7 for Houston in 1997 as the Astros won the division title, then signed a free agent deal with Colorado before the '98 season. In '98, the Astros repeated as division champs. Johnson left via free agency after that season, and in '99 the Astros won the division again.

Beltran helped Houston reach the NLCS in 2004, then signed as a free agent with the New York Mets prior to the 2005 season, the year the Astros won the NL pennant.

What looked like devastating defections when they came down often didn't play out so bad for Houston in the fullness of time.

Neither will this one, and that's no criticism of Clemens, who had an outstanding three-year run with the Astros.

In the short term, South Texas will be subjected to the obligatory hand-wringing and second-guessing that typically follows such losses. That view misses the big picture. The Astros were already looking at potential help around the league and those efforts will be stepped up now that everyone knows where Clemens will be pitching.

Matching what they received from Pettitte and Clemens last year -- the two were a combined 21-19 with a 3.54 ERA in 54 starts covering 328 innings -- is a tall order, but the Astros are hoping that the offense starts scoring more runs, which would lessen the burden on the pitching staff.

Without Clemens, the rotation of Roy Oswalt, Woody Williams, Matt Albers, Wandy Rodriguez and Chris Sampson is it for now, at least until Jason Jennings and (perhaps) Brandon Backe come off the disabled list.

Oswalt is as good as there is and Williams has pitched better than his record. Over the years, Williams has also been a pitcher who usually puts together a big winning streak at some point in the season. Albers has shown flashes of being something special, but he and the other two youngsters in the rotation have been inconsistent. A big return by Jennings could be the boost the staff needs.

In the meantime, the Astros will look harder at the market and try to upgrade during the midseason trading window. That option appears to be less likely as there isn't much available at the moment.

And now Clemens isn't, either.

Houston may have lost the race for the Rocket, but the season, that's another matter.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.