Sports Outside the Beltway

Welcome to the Party, Pal – Roger Clemens Rejoins Yankees

The saga ends. The kabuki theater of the absurd that followed Roger Clemens as he contemplated retirement or return ended yesterday afternoon in dramatic fashion, as Yankee PA announcer Bob Sheppard directed fans to the owner’s box behind home plate. There stood the forty-four year old pitcher. Microphone in hand, Clemens spoke,

“Well, they came and got me out of Texas and I can tell you it’s a privilege to be back,” he said. “I’ll be talking to y’all soon.”

Clemens had more to say when reintroduced to the media.

“Make no mistake about it, I’ve come back to do what they only know how to do here with the Yankees, and that’s win a championship,” Clemens said. “Anything else is a failure, and I know that.”

Note to Clemens, failure is both an option and an expectation, at this juncture. The Yankee offense is potent, but the bullpen is already showing signs of wear and tear and with the debut of Mike DeSalvo, the Yankees will set a record for most starting pitchers used (10) in the first 30 games of the season. Eschewing a better situation in Boston, or the status quo in Houston, Clemens essentially burned those two bridges and returned to New York where he will either ride in like the cavalry and save the day of prove to be a bullpen draining five inning league-average starting pitcher.

This is not the fine whine made from the sourest of grapes. I know, could have fooled you, couldn’t I? It is a realistic look at a forty-four year old, whose expiration date may be sooner than he or the team that has invested $18.5 million in salary and $7.4 million in luxury taxes in him have imagined.

First off, since moving over to the NL, Clemens has been 2-3 with a no decision against the American League. Those wins came against the woeful Royals and the lowly Mariners. Last year in his return to Houston, he dropped his first two decisions, both against AL clubs who ended up in the post season (Minnesota and Detroit). He pitched well in both games, but his team couldn’t muster the runs for him. Well that shouldn’t be a problem for the high octane Yankee lineup. No, it shouldn’t, but Minnesota and Detroit were not exactly bruising offenses last year. Both teams won more on pitching than on power. Intra-divisional rivals, Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay all have potent lineups capable of wearing out starters.

Secondly, Clemens has become little more than a six inning pitcher. Six innings is okay, but consider the Red Sox and their rotation. To this point, Boston starting pitchers have accounted for 70.8% of innings pitched by the team, or on average 6.372 innings pitched per start. That includes Julian Tavarez who shocked Red Sox nation by pitching every bit as good as Johan Santana Saturday night. Yes, that Johan Santana. Tavarez went six innings and gave up two runs, throwing 98 pitches. Santana didn’t make it tot he sixth, as the Sox hitters took a lot of pitches early and wore him out. Clemens averaged 5.97 innings pitched per start in the National League. In the AL where clubs are more patient, and better hitting ball clubs, Clemens and the Yankees can expect a drop off in his rate stats and innings pitched, which will only strain that terribly taxed bullpen.

This is one of the reasons why Boston would have been a better fit for the Rocket. His shorter outings would have been partially masked by the rested and to this point highly effective Red Sox bullpen, not to mention the good feelings his return to Boston would have generated among Sox fans who have come to forgive and forgets Clemens initial departure from Boston, instead blaming Dan Duquette for the loss of the best pitcher of the age. Duquette’s redemption, dealing for Pedro Martinez was a soothing tonic, Sox fans felt bitter about Clemens for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his wholehearted assumption of Yankee culture when he forced a trade to the Bombers after the 1998 season, in which he won his second consecutive AL Cy Young award with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees had the money to spend on Clemens. And yes it was about the dollars. Don’t believe Randy Hendricks and his nonsensical statement.

when Clemens’ agent, Randy Hendricks, spoke to the Astros and Red Sox in recent days, they said they’d prefer he join up with them in late June or early July. The Yankees, according to Hendricks, said: “We’d like you yesterday.”

Clemens had oft repeated that he was going to make his decision by the end of May. Tack on four to six weeks of time to get into game shape and you have that late June, early July timeframe. To say that either team would prefer him then is garbage. If they were working to sign him, they wanted him as soon as he was ready. No team is going to sit around and say that this player they have invested large dollars in should wait longer than is necessary to begin going to work for them.

This will in all likelihood be the last season of Roger Clemens’ Hall of Fame career. Houston no longer has an obligation to pursue Clemens to the ends of the earth. He left town. They are off the hook. There is no going back to Boston now, either. He picked the Yankees after Sox fans had appealed to him, and pleaded with him to come back, one more time, for the good times. And Sox fans are feeling pretty played this morning. According to an unscientific survey, eighty-eight percent of Sox fans feel Theo was wise not to bust open the vault for Rocket Roger. It’s cliche, but Clemens decision is closure for Red Sox Nation. And like I said in 2004 (you’ll have to take my word for it, I wasn’t blogging back then) this just means it will be so much sweeter when we beat them.

So welcome back, Roger. It may end up being a dream ride. It may be a very bumpy ride. It’ll be interesting either way.

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