Thursday, September 15, 2005
Astros rally around Rocket with emotional win over Fish
HOUSTON -- Roger Clemens dug his spikes into the dirt and stared momentarily at the ground before throwing his first pitch. He knew his mother wanted him on the mound.
"I get my determination from her," Clemens said. "She told me to go to work."
The Houston Astros ace made his scheduled start Wednesday night and allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings in a 10-2 win over the Florida Marlins, pitching in honor of his mother after she died early that morning.
Bess Clemens died in Georgetown, Texas, because of complications from emphysema. She was 75.
"I feel very blessed that she's at peace now. The last 10 years were hard on her, the last 2-3 days were grueling," said Clemens, who spent his mother's final night with her. "But she was very tough to the end. She didn't want to give up."
Just after the final out, a tribute to Clemens' mother was shown on the giant video screen, and Astros players stood in the infield and watched, while Clemens saw it on a monitor in the clubhouse. The video included Clemens talking about his mother at previous news conferences, his mother talking about him and video of them together on a baseball field.
"It was great to see her look so pretty like I remember," he said with tears in his eyes.
The Rocket often shared his affection for his mother, saying her health was an important factor as he weighed retirement the past two offseasons. His stepfather died when he was young, and his mother was an inspiration.
"His mother was a very special person in his life. I can see the two of them together, Roger was still a little boy around her," New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said in St. Petersburg, Fla. "She's been fighting this thing for a long period of time. Hopefully she's at peace and Roger is also."
Clemens has talked about how much he hoped his mother would be able to attend his Hall of Fame induction.
"I wanted her to hang on so I could thank her properly at the Hall of Fame," he said.
Bess Clemens came to Yankee Stadium for her son's first attempt at his 300th win on May 26, 2003, against Boston. Suffering from emphysema and coming off a recent bout with pneumonia, she wore a breathing tube around her face. But she wasn't able to attend when Clemens won No. 300 21⁄2 weeks later against St. Louis.
His mother did throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Yankees game in August 2003.
"It was great. They should have let her stay on the mound. She had better stuff than I had," Clemens said.
In her final hours, she was talking baseball. Clemens said his mother asked if the Astros had made the playoffs yet, inquired about Andy Pettitte and more than once mentioned Shoeless Joe Jackson.
"I asked her if she was in the fields, and she said I think I am," Clemens said. "She just loves the game of baseball."
Clemens (12-7) lowered his major league-best ERA to 1.77 while winning for the first time in seven starts. It was his 340th victory, the most among active pitchers, and he had four strikeouts to increase his career total to 4,492.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner allowed five hits. He threw 55 of 83 pitches for strikes, and his only walks were those in the first inning.
Clemens had a tough first inning, with two four-pitch walks -- including leadoff hitter Luis Castillo before Jeff Conine singled. Florida then took the lead on Carlos Delgado's grounder, but didn't score another run as Houston stopped a three-game losing streak and pulled within a half-game of the Marlins in the NL wild-card race.
"As soon as I climbed on the mound, I was lost a little bit," Clemens said. "I knew I had to gather it up pretty quick and get through that."
A.J. Burnett (12-11) lost his fifth straight start for the Marlins (78-68), giving up three runs and six hits over six innings with five strikeouts and five walks.
After Houston (77-68) loaded the based on a walk and two singles, Burnett walked consecutive batters -- Clemens was the second -- to give the Astros a 2-1 lead. Craig Biggio followed with an RBI single.
Clemens had retired 17 of 19 batters, allowing only a pair of singles, before Damion Easley and Juan Pierre had consecutive one-out singles in the seventh with the Astros up 3-1.
After Pierre had reached base, catcher Brad Ausmus went out to the mound for a lengthy conversation with Clemens. Manger Phil Garner then came out, and after speaking briefly with Clemens, changed pitchers.
Clemens got a standing ovation as he walked from the mound, and when he got to the dugout shared high-fives and handshakes with his teammates who swarmed around him. Reliever Chad Qualls got the first batter he raced to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"It was just Rocket being Rocket. He was just adding to his legendary status," Biggio said.
Marlins manager Jack McKeon said he already had plenty of admiration for Clemens.
"You have to know he was in a lot of grief," McKeon said. "But he's a pro. He's always the same old Roger. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer."