2003-04-12 / Sports

Clemens Fires Toward 300: Tigers Just Awful

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch
Clemens Fires Toward 300: Tigers Just Awful By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist


BRYAN HOCHBRYAN HOCH

You look at Roger Clemens, the sometimes-surly, always intimidating Yankees’ righthander, and it’s hard to ever believe that this guy was ever a kid.

Yet, 295 wins in the way-back machine, Clemens was once a fresh-faced rookie with the Boston Red Sox, breaking into the majors in an era when Ronald Reagan presided over the United States, the Ghostbusters were busy saving Manhattan from the supernatural and Billy Ocean was crooning about a Caribbean Queen.

By now, you’re either feeling nostalgic about the year 1984, or just pretty darned old.

But as Clemens closes in on his 300th career victory, needing just five more victories to reach the milestone after defeating the hapless Devil Rays Sunday at the disgraceful facility known as Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, he really feels neither.

"I’ve had a lot of great years and I’ve been real fortunate," Clemens told MLB.com this week. "This is no different than any other year because this could be my last and most likely is. It’s not going to be any different than the approach I’ve had in the first 19. Nothing changes in my approach to winning, and that’s the bottom line."

Love him or hate him – and there’s plenty of the latter, from disgruntled Bostonians who wonder how their golden child could ever desert them, to Mets fans still steamed over the two incidents with Mike Piazza – Clemens is a joy to watch, still exerting his influence over the strike zone at age 40 in a way that reminds of another hard-throwing elder Texan, Nolan Ryan.

That’s no coincidence: this offseason, to serve as inspiration, Clemens mounted an old Ryan jersey in his Houston mansion’s 9,000 square-foot weight room to motivate his winter workouts. When you hang around the majors for 18 seasons like Clemens has, you can afford such luxuries.

"The longevity is paying off," the six-time Cy Young Award winner said Sunday. "It’s something I’ve worked really hard for in my career, and it’s paying off now in good ways."

Clemens stating he’s worked hard over the course of his career is a bit like saying this past New York winter was a little chilly. Even with his odometer having ticked into the forties, Clemens can still hold his own with any of the young sprouts from baseball’s farm systems; he runs countless miles year-round and hits the weight room harder than nearly anyone, something he takes pride in.

After all, who can forget that ugly day a few years ago when Clemens challenged some young Yankees hurlers to just try and keep up with his workout regimen? That experiment ended with rookie Ted Lilly vomiting from exhaustion in the outfield grass of the Yankees’ spring training stadium, a nasty sight for the Legends Field grounds crew workers, but one of pure bliss to Clemens’ eyes.

"He might be 40, but he looks 25," catcher Jorge Posada said recently.

The Clemens Express, no doubt careening toward a final destination in Cooperstown, N.Y., makes a stop in the Bronx on Friday to again battle the overwhelmed Devil Rays in front of what’s sure to be a raucous crowd at Yankee Stadium.

If you’re not on board this train yet, there’s still time.

•Star-crossed: Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. After dislocating his right shoulder diving for a ball in the nether regions of Cincinnati’s brand-new Great American Ballpark last week, you have to wonder if Griffey will ever be able to stay healthy long enough to get his career back on track.

This was supposed to be the year Griffey finally got the Cincinnati fans back on his side, especially after a monstrous Grapefruit League season that saw the outfielder bat a blistering .367 with six homers and 18 RBI.

But it’s just been one dismaying injury after another for Griffey since he left the Seattle Mariners, and it leaves us uncertain whether the man who was baseball’s player of the 1990’s and was once a lock to break Henry Aaron’s career home-run record will ever regain his former glory.

•Rebounding: Dodgers righthander Kevin Brown. Forget the fact that Los Angeles’ bullpen, led by Piazza-pal Guillermo Mota, couldn’t hold his 3-1 lead Monday: Brownie looked strong and healthy against the Diamondbacks and appears to have put his recurring back troubles behind for the moment.

After seeing Brown pitch against the Mets in Vero Beach this spring, he looked similarly intimidating in the Dodgers’ home opener, allowing just a solo home run to Arizona’s Chad Moeller among three hits over 6-1/3 innings. Fantasy players take note.

•Cheeeeeap: Toronto Blue Jays. All three of the Jays’ team doctors quit this week when it was revealed that the team wasn’t springing for malpractice insurance, should a lawsuit be filed in the United States against them.

•Just plain bad: Detroit Tigers. The Tigers became the first team to open consecutive seasons with 0-6 records this week since the 1962-63 Mets, New York’s first two years in the National League. The problem with the Tigers is mostly that they’re a weak fundamental team on defense and not much of an offensive juggernaut at the plate, two things that don’t tend to mesh real well. Oh yeah, and their pitching isn’t great either.

bryanhoch@yahoo.com.


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