Clemens' nine strikeouts:
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|Clemens reacts after striking out Tony Womack to end the seventh inning.
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NEW YORK -- He's won five Cy Young awards. Nobody in the history of Major League Baseball has ever done that. The 3,717 strikeouts in his illustrious career put him behind only immortals Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton on the all-time list. His 280 victories are the most among active pitchers. Just this season, he became the first pitcher to open a season 20-1.
We aren't talking about Curt Schilling. We aren't talking about Randy Johnson. Did you know there was another dominant ace pitching in this World Series?
His name is Roger Clemens. He entered in dramatic fashion for Tuesday's Game 3 of the World Series. Thanks to the 39-year-old Rocket, the Yankees are back in it. After this tense 2-1 victory, Arizona's lead has been chopped to 2-1 in the best-of-seven.
So after watching Clemens pitch like, well, Clemens, it's a good time to wonder why he wasn't given the same reverence building up to this Fall Classic as his Arizona counterparts.
After the crucial win was complete, Yankees Manager Joe Torre -- without attempting to do so -- shed light on why Clemens might have been pushed to the background.
"The only thing I can say, for a pitcher as great as Roger has been, he's really had to defend himself a lot," Torre said. "And after this game tonight, I don't think he will have to defend himself again. He should never have to defend himself as far as pitching a big game."
What Torre was alluding to is a reference -- largely bogus -- that Clemens can't win the big one.
He has a 6-6 postseason record to prove it, right? Uh, wrong.
Clemens has -- at the very least -- kept his team in nearly every October game he's ever pitched. Even with a tight hamstring that has limited him in this postseason, he's managed to do that.
He hasn't won big games? What about Game 7 of the 1986 ALCS for the Red Sox. Wasn't that one-hit, 15-strikeout epic he threw last October against the Mariners in Game 4 of the ALCS fairly large? Then there was the infamous Game 2 gem against the Mets in last year's World Series. On that night, his marvelous performance was lost in the shadow of "batgate," when he may or may not have intentionally tossed a chopped piece of wood in the direction of Mike Piazza.
But there was no distraction or sideshow to this victory. It was simply a dominant performance by a famously dominant performer.
On a night the struggling Yankee hitters hardly gave Clemens anything, the Rocket gave the Diamondbacks all they could handle. He pitched his best on a night anything less probably would have put the Yankees on the brink of elimination.
After baffling the Diamondbacks on this chilly Bronx night to the tune of three hits and one earned run while striking out nine over seven innings, Clemens had a right to thump his chest a little. He resisted that urge.
And let it be said that this wasn't a big game. In fact, it was huge. If the Yankees come back to win their fourth consecutive World Series, this performance by Clemens will be looked at in the same magnitude as the gem Mike Mussina tossed in Oakland three weeks ago when the Yankees were on the brink of elimination.
After Game 2, Torre put the onus on Clemens to get the Yankees off the mat. He delivered, even with a hamstring that still isn't 100 percent.
The joy Clemens took in registering his first win of this year's playoffs was simple. He gave his team a victory when they needed one desperately. As far as the periphery issue of showing that he is in fact a clutch performer, he'll leave that debate to the media and the fans.
Not that such a stance is surprising from the Rocket. Focus is one of the reasons he's been able to maintain his dominance at this late stage of his career. In other words, he's never really paid much attention to what the critics have said.
"The only critics I really worry about are the guys I perform with," Clemens said. "I think if you ask any of my teammates over 18 years, they would give you definite and true answers."
Clemens dismisses critical analysis that generates from outside his clubhouse much like he dismissed most of Arizona's hitters in Game 3 with an array of pure heat, nasty splitters and biting sliders.
"Write what you want, it's not going to change anything," Clemens said. "To me, it's just an honor to have had this opportunity at this stage of my career. I've done it many times. I've left games tied. I've left games that were close but we were losing. I've pitched big games, little games, it makes no difference."
It's just that Clemens made all the difference for the Yankees in Game 3. He made this a series again.
"It was huge, like the game Mussina won in Oakland," said Yanks third baseman Scott Brosius, whose RBI single in the sixth made Clemens' effort stand up. "We needed a huge pitching performance and he gave it to us."
It would also seem Clemens assured himself of not hearing much more about the size of the games he has won. Not that he cared much in the first place.
"I relish the moment," said Clemens, "and I enjoy being out there, the competition."
When it comes to mound competitors, they don't come in sizes (literally or figuratively) much bigger than Clemens.
Ian Browne is a columnist for MLB.com.