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Archive for Thursday, October 23, 2003

Rocket’s last glare from pitching mound

Clemens makes final scheduled appearance

October 23, 2003

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— A 94 mph fastball for a strikeout.

The New York Yankees' Roger Clemens ended his final start in the World Series in trademark fashion, the stadium sparkling with flashbulbs as thousands of fans photographed his last pitch.

It was 10:43 p.m. EDT Wednesday, one more goose-bump moment in a storied career.

Clemens caught Florida's Luis Castillo looking to close the seventh inning, then pumped his fist, slapped his glove and was greeted by teammates as he got to the dugout. The crowd of 65,934 -- knowing he would be taken out for reliever Jeff Nelson -- rose to give the Rocket a long, warm ovation.

Clemens acknowledged the crowd with a curtain call, doffing his cap to the fans and to several Marlins who had tipped their caps to him.

It was a memorable performance: six shutout innings after a shaky first, and five strikeouts that gave him 48 for his career, tied for 10th in World Series history with Christy Mathewson. Clemens threw 109 pitches, 76 for strikes.

Two innings later, the Yankees made sure he didn't take the loss, scoring two runs with two outs in the ninth to tie the game 3-3.

An hour and 45 minutes after Clemens left, Florida came back to win 4-3 on Alex Gonzalez's homer in the 12th inning.

One of the most romantic visions of sports is the sunset fantasy, a champion going out like a champion, aglow in victory, the cheers of the crowd resonating as background music.

New York pitcher Roger Clemens tips his cap at the end of the
seventh inning. He likely made his final career major-league
appearance Wednesday in Miami.

New York pitcher Roger Clemens tips his cap at the end of the seventh inning. He likely made his final career major-league appearance Wednesday in Miami.

In a two-out, first-inning rally, the Marlins racked Clemens for three runs on five straight hits, including a two-run homer by Miguel Cabrera -- after Clemens buzzed him with a high, inside pitch. Clemens threw 42 pitches before he got the third out.

Clemens tried to help himself by looping a broken-bat single -- his first World Series hit -- to lead off the fifth inning, but the Yankees couldn't capitalize.

Yet the way Clemens pitched or hit mattered less than the fact he was starting in a World Series one last time.

The fantasy happens more often in Hollywood than it does in real life, where athletes tend to linger past their prime, muscles and joints aching, the stadium silent as their cleats clatter through the tunnel on their way out.

The game is seductive, making them think they're forever young. They need the cheers, the juice, the money, so they stay longer than they should. Or fate hands them a raw deal and they never get the chance to play on the grand stage.

It's tough to know when to quit. The time is different for every athlete, and the best time is when they know deep down that the passion is gone for training and traveling and sacrificing their families for their teammates.

Clemens came to that point this season.

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