Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Clemens answers SOS

        NEW YORK — The front page of the Daily News carried huge headlines of an anthrax scare. The back page sent out a distress signal.

        The largest letters were “S O S,” Morse code for big trouble. Beside a photograph of Roger Clemens, spelled out with smaller type, was a plea: “Save Our Season.”

        It was as simple as that. The New York Yankees, three-time defending world champions, returned home Tuesday night with their dynasty in danger. The Arizona Diamondbacks held a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven, and no team had ever lost the first three games of the Fall Classic and recovered.

        It fell to Clemens to stop the slide, to serve up some of his
high heat on a chilly New York night, to be a postseason pitcher on a par with his regular-season reputation.

        “For a pitcher as great as Roger has been, he's really had to defend himself a lot,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “After this game he pitched tonight, I don't think he'll ever have to defend himself again.”

Desperate D'backs?
               Clemens beat the Diamondbacks 2-1 with a performance worthy of Curt Schilling or Randy Johnson. He held Arizona to three singles in seven innings. He stopped the bleeding in the Bronx and prompted D'backs manager Bob Brenly to proclaim Schilling his Game4 starter on only three days' rest.

        The Yankees still trail in the Series, two games to one, but pushing Schilling suggests it is the Diamondbacks who are desperate. Since 1999, pitchers are 1-9 on short rest in the postseason, Clemens among them.

        Five times a Cy Young Award winner — and probably headed for No. 6 — Clemens has not always shown the same command in October. He has been brilliant in some starts, awful in others. Hampered by a tender hamstring, short on staying power, he had failed to reach the sixth inning in his first three starts of the postseason.

        But the Rocket who pitched Tuesday night in front of President Bush was much the same overpowering pitcher who won 20 of his first 21 decisions this season. He may have been only marginally better than Arizona's Brian Anderson, and he benefited from substantially stronger defense, but he delivered the goods with seven superb innings.

        “He came as advertised,” Brenly said. “A lot of good fastballs high in the zone, a lot of split-finger fastballs dipped down low out of the zone. He threw enough sliders to give us something else to think about, but he was extremely tough.”

Season saved
               “S O S” also could stand for “Strike Out Snakes,” and Clemens fanned nine of them Tuesday night. He allowed only a fourth-inning run and twice pitched out of predicaments in which the Diamondbacks moved the go-ahead run to third base.

        After the Yankees took the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, Clemens returned to the mound with some of his best stuff of the night. He retired the Diamondbacks in order, closing the inning with successive strikeouts of Damian Miller and Tony Womack. He then left the stage to Mariano Rivera, who retired six straight hitters to save the game that saved a season.

        “I expect things out of myself no matter what the situation is — big game or little game or whatever you want to call it,” Clemens said. “To me, it's just an honor to have this opportunity at this stage of my career.”

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Yankees 2, Diamondbacks 1
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