|Clemens faces Bonds in first regular-season relief appearance since 1984|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 24 June 2007 16:18|
Clemens made his first regular-season appearance as a reliever since he was a rookie with the Red Sox in 1984, walking the San Francisco slugger on five pitches before yielding one run in the seventh inning of the Yankees' 7-2 loss.
Clemens, who lost in Colorado on Thursday and missed a chance for his 350th win, yielded a sacrifice fly by Nate Schierholtz that raised his ERA to 5.09. But the 44-year-old right-hander also elevated his esteem in the eyes of any New York fans or teammates who might have doubted his commitment to the club.
``If the manager trusts you enough to put you in, you want to be ready,'' Clemens said. ``I watched the last couple of days. Any chance I can give the bullpen guys a chance to rest - they've been taxed.''
Clemens' contract gives him the option to skip road trips when he isn't scheduled to pitch, but he traveled with the team to San Francisco even though he wasn't going to start in the series.
The Rocket then volunteered to pitch after the Yankees' bullpen was depleted Saturday by a 13-inning loss. Since it was Clemens' day to throw on the side anyway, manager Joe Torre decided to hold that session on the mound - particularly with Bonds due up.
``Today, he came in early and told us he could give us 50 pitches,'' Torre said. ``I said, 'Fine, I'll take 20.' He's volunteered a lot for us, and today we took him up on it.''
The last time Clemens pitched in relief during a regular-season game, he was a 21-year-old Boston rookie with three career victories and no children.
Clemens yielded two hits over two innings against the Oakland Athletics on July 18, 1984, in his 13th major league outing - and until Sunday, it was the only regular-season relief appearance of his career, with a span of 681 starts in between.
Of course, he came out of the bullpen to earn the win for Houston in an 18-inning playoff game against Atlanta in 2005, the longest postseason game in major league history. That victory sent his hometown Astros to the NL championship series.
Clemens' appearance provided a rare treat for fans: He has faced Bonds just eight times over three games in their lengthy careers, and every meeting has ended in either a strikeout or a free pass to first base.
Clemens has walked Bonds five times, but also struck out the slugger twice when his Houston Astros faced the Giants in April 2004.
The Giants last met the Yankees during interleague play in June 2002. Before the game, Clemens all but promised to hit Bonds in his bulky protective elbow guard - and then he did it, prompting San Francisco manager Dusty Baker to question Clemens' courage in an AL park where he wouldn't have to bat. Bonds also drew three walks, but Clemens got a 4-2 win at Yankee Stadium.
Any hard feelings were forgotten before Sunday's anticlimax. Clemens' favorite moment with Bonds occurred back when both players were in college, when the Texas pitcher recalls meeting the Arizona State slugger after a game to exchange gear and pleasantries.
``(That's a) special moment with Barry and I,'' Clemens said. ``We've had, both of us, longevity. ... I'll be watching when he breaks the record.''
Bonds had nothing to say about his performance, which included two runs scored, a stolen base, an impressive running catch and a second-inning single. He remained at 749 homers, six shy of Hank Aaron's career mark, and fled the Giants' locker room before reporters were allowed inside.
Clemens struck out Ray Durham to open the seventh, but walked Bonds on five pitches before Ryan Klesko's single. Schierholtz then hit a long drive to center, and Bonds scored easily from third.
Clemens ended the longest stretch between regular-season relief appearances in major league history at 22 years, 341 days, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Steve Carlton went 15 years, 343 days between relief appearances in 1971 and 1987.
``It was a matter of him being the best option at the time,'' Torre said. ``It made sense. I didn't see it as a back-against-the-wall thing.''