NEW YORK (AP) -Closer to his AARP card than his rookie card, Roger Clemens made a rock-star entrance at Yankee Stadium. Only the lasers and smoke were missing when he appeared in the owner's box during the seventh-inning stretch and addressed fans.
The Yankees will pay about $26 million in salary and luxury tax for the Rocket, more than $1 million per win for a soon-to-be 45-year-old pitcher likely to make about 22 starts in the regular season. Then again, it's value shopping when compared with Carl Pavano - as far as the Yankees are concerned, his $39.95 million, four-year contract surpassed the 1997 Dunbar Armored heist ($18.9 million) as the largest cash robbery in U.S. history.
Pavano has more injuries (six) than wins (five) in a little more than two seasons, and he might have elbow surgery that could sideline him for the remainder of his agreement.
New York spent even more on Kei Igawa - $46 million including his contract and the posting fee. He has two wins, a 7.63 ERA and might wind up in the minor leagues soon.
While the Yankees sputtered to a 14-15 start, sending pitchers to the disabled list with the regularity of an assembly line, the Boston Red Sox spurted to an AL-best 20-10 record. Clemens is viewed as a savior - in another era, he could have stuck a corncob pipe in his mouth and pronounced: ``I have returned!''
``This is a huge statement,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in the interview room in the bowels of Yankees Stadium. ``Don't count us out, because we want to be in it for the long haul.''
Rotating rookies through the rotation is not the Yankee way - Matt DeSalvo was set Monday night to become their 10th starting pitcher in the first 30 games of the season, a major league record.
Up at Fenway Park, the Red Sox are feeling pretty good these days, with Josh Beckett (6-0), Curt Schilling (4-1), Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-2), Tim Wakefield (3-3) and Julian Tavarez (1-3) combining for a solid rotation, if not a fab five.
``They need him more than we do,'' David Ortiz said.
Pitching is prized above all in baseball, more important than power, more coveted than fancy fielding or super speed. Just last Friday, the Yankees scored 11 runs and lost to Seattle, wasted an 8-6 lead by allowing eight consecutive batters to reach.
In October, especially, the Yankees have flopped on the mound following Clemens' 2003 departure, with Kevin Brown, Javy Vazquez and Randy Johnson battered as if they were BP pitchers. But at the rate Yankees pitchers were allowing runs, New York wasn't going to reach October without a drastic move.
Mike Mussina (38) and Andy Pettitte (35 in June) figure to miss starts here and there. Phil Hughes, the 20-year-old knocked out by a hamstring injury in mid-no-hitter last week, figures to learn a lot from Clemens, as do Darrell Rasner, Jeffrey Karstens, Chase Wright, DeSalvo and maybe even Igawa, too.
Clemens described his mission as part educational, a Stanley Kaplan finishing school for the pitching set. He's part professor, part drill instructor, with 348 wins and 4,604 strikeouts.
``There's a lot of young pitchers here now trying to achieve their dreams and goals,'' he said. ``I look forward to talking to them and bringing them some experience.''
Clemens' announcement of his return was one of those choreographed Yankees moments, a reminder of Old-Timers' Day 1978, when the just-fired Billy Martin was announced as the manager for 1980 - 1 1/2 years away. Cashman said the dramatics were his idea.
Not even the players knew in advance - Clemens predicted Andy Pettitte, his good buddy, would be miffed he didn't get an advance tip when the two talked Saturday.
Yankees manager Joe Torre told his coaches before the game and recounted a moment he had with pitching coach Ron Guidry, a quip that revealed the Yankees' desperation.
``Gator,'' Torre related, ``kiddingly said: `When can he pitch? This week sometime?' '''

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