Clemens will face former teammate

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Astros veteran starter squares off with Chicago's Contreras in Game 1 tonight.

CHICAGO -- Roger Clemens is the old stubbly face in a World Series filled with bubbly newcomers.

He's had more farewell seasons than the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox have World Series titles, more awards than every other player on both rosters combined. And tonight, the 43-year-old Rocket will start for the Astros in his hometown team's World Series debut, opposed by former Yankees teammate Jose Contreras.

"It gets you really amped up again," Clemens said before Friday's workout. "I'm excited about it. I ponder to myself this could be my last couple of starts -- or your last one."

When last seen on the World Series stage, he exited to more popping strobes than a supermodel. Even opposing players applauded during Game 4 in Miami when he came out of the New York Yankees' extra-inning loss to the Marlins.

"I wasn't ready for all the flashes," Clemens said.

But that wasn't the end.

If Houston winds up winning this World Series, the best was yet to come.

While this is his sixth Series, Saturday night will be the first time he's pitched an opener.

"It comes with a lot of responsibility," he said, sounding as if he was carrying the entire state of Texas on his broad back. "I know that so many people are counting on me, and I enjoy that. I expect it, but it's the career I've led. So here we go again."

While Clemens said in 2003 that his career was over, the decision by Andy Pettitte to sign with the Astros that fall sparked him come out of retirement to pitch alongside his friend and former Yankees teammate. Like Texas beef, he's improved with age.

He won his seventh Cy Young Award in 2004, when Houston came a win short of reaching the World Series -- Clemens lost Game 7 at St. Louis. He came back again this year, pitched through the death of his mother, Bess, and led the major leagues in ERA (1.87) for the first time since 1990. The 15-year gap between ERA titles was double the previous high, set by the Braves' Warren Spahn in 1947 and 1953.

He could become the first 300-game winner to get a World Series victory since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1926 and the oldest pitcher to win a World Series game, 15 days more senior than Dolf Luque, who got the win for the New York Giants in the finale of the 1933 Series against Washington. Clemens and Luque share Aug. 4 as their birthday, but Luque won on Oct. 7 while Clemens will be pitching on Oct. 22.

In another coincidence, Luque was born in Havana, also the birthplace of Contreras, who played with Clemens on the 2003 Yankees.

"I have to thank Roger very much because in Cuba I was throwing a two-seam fastball and he taught me how to throw a four-seam fastball," Contreras said through a translator. "Every time I did something wrong with my mechanics, he helped he correct my errors."

Several Chicago players have done well against Clemens, who has been somewhat hampered by a groin problem. Cleanup hitter Paul Konerko is 8-for-18 with five doubles, two homers and five RBIs. He doesn't think any injury would slow Clemens down.

"I'm sure if he had a broken leg, he'd figure out how to get some people out," Konerko said.

While A.J. Pierzynski is just 1-for-11 against Clemens during the regular season, he hit a solo homer off him for Minnesota against the Yankees in Game 4 of the 2003 AL Division Series.

"Other than that, I haven't had a lot of success off him," Pierzynski said. "A lot of good memories for him and bad memories for me."

Clemens was pleased with the perseverance of the Astros, not himself. Houston is the first team to make the World Series after falling 15 games under .500 since the 1914 Boston Braves.

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