Clemens's dominance leads wayRight-hander's performance comes after serving suspension
Clemens combined dominance with perseverance on Saturday, somehow holding the Tigers to two runs with eight strikeouts despite allowing a season-high 10 hits through six innings, including 20-year-old rookie Cameron Maybin's majestic shot to dead center field. But the Rocket was on the losing end of a 2-1 game because the Yankees, the Major League leaders in batting average and runs batted in, managed only a run on three hits off Chad Durbin, who began the sixth having retried seven in a row.
Once Derek Jeter broke out of a 3-for-23 slump, Bobby Abreu's 14th home run off the left field foul pole restored order to the Yankees' universe to earn a 5-2 win. Seattle's win over the White Sox kept New York a half-game out of the Wild Card hunt, but Clemens' guile proved valuable nonetheless.
Despite the 10 hits, the Tigers stranded eight runners and were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position against the Rocket. Detroit threatened to break the game open when it loaded the bases with two out in the sixth, but Clemens ended his afternoon by getting Curtis Granderson to pop up to short.
"The difference in Roger than a lot of other pitchers is the fact that man at third base, less than two out, I don't remember anybody as good as him," said Joe Torre.
The Yankees responded by sending nine men to the plate, pounding six hits off Durbin and two Tigers relievers. Clemens repeatedly deflected credit to the offense, but he gave his hitters a chance when he deftly wiggled out of his first jam in the third.
Following a strikeout of Granderson, No. 1,000 as a Yankee, Clemens whiffed Marcus Thames and intercepted Jorge Posada's throw to second base. Inge was caught too far off third and tagged out by Clemens to complete a unique caught stealing.
"I could see Posada setting his feet to throw in that direction," Inge said. "They went out and had a discussion between the two of them, and I'm wondering if that was set from the beginning or if they may have changed it at that point."
Clemens said it was a something the duo worked on in Spring Training during his first incarnation as a Yankee, but it wasn't planned on Saturday. He didn't know Posada would be throwing towards short.
"He threw a head-high ball, I was clearing and I was able to grab it, and I think we had a good rundown," Clemens said.
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the fourth but Clemens escaped with only Ryan Raburn's sacrifice fly that tied the game at 1. Maybin's homer was the last time the Tigers dented Clemens (5-5) in what was his first appearance on a mound in 10 days off a suspension for hitting Toronto's Alex Rios.
Clemens spent the down time in Lexington, Ky., working out and watching oldest son Koby play for the Class-A Legends. He never worried about being rusty. Instead, Clemens took his medicine and returned refreshed.
"I still had to get my work in so I was sharp when I got back," Clemens said. "If not you embarrass yourself and you're letting a lot of people down."
There are times when Clemens is cantankerous, like his first day back Wednesday morning when he told an inquisitor it was none of his business how he spent the involuntary time off, but never is there a moment where he isn't appreciated. He was an open book to the media Saturday, eager to share details of his taming of the Tigers.
Most of all, and perhaps his greatest value right now, Clemens is an open encyclopedia that grabs the intensive attention of youngsters Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. He was to take the mound in a mere 90 minutes, but Clemens embraced Chamberlain to complement him on keeping his mechanics in order Friday night.
Chamberlain left Yankee Stadium awestruck at what he mentor continues to do, while showing his pupils that a big-league education is infinite - though not water torture.
"He's a great pitcher, but what makes it even better is he's a great person," Chamberlain said. "He's very relaxed and keeping people having fun, but he's also a serious guy and knows when to turn the switch on. It calms all the young guys down to see that somebody that successful can still be funny, but when it's time to go to work, he goes to work."
Gary Sheffield continued to be booed relentlessly, but the former Yankee went 3-for-4 with a double after going hitless in his first seven at-bats since his offseason trade to Detroit. Sheffield is 11-for-18 (.611) lifetime against Clemens, but faced him for the first time since July 25, 1990 in Milwaukee as a member of the Brewers.
Sheffield struck out in the seventh against Kyle Farnsworth, earning the enigmatic reliever a standing ovation and Sheffield more boos as he walked slowly back to the dugout.
Speaking of Farnsworth, he put together his fourth straight impressive outing in an attempt to regain Torre's trust to work in the late innings. Farnsworth retired the Tigers in order, including punch outs of Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez.
"It was a great outing for Farnsworth," Torre said. "We needed him to do what he did, especially to the people he pitched to."
Thursday, Farnsworth pitched a scoreless sixth and worked two perfect innings in two prior appearances.
"All of it was just stop fighting myself," Farnsworth said. "I'm not trying to do too much and make everything perfect. Just nice and easy, relax and go with it."
Mariano Rivera returned from a two-day break with a vengeance, allowing only a walk - his first in his previous 23 appearances (27 innings pitched) in a scoreless ninth with one strikeout. Rivera gave up three 10th-inning runs - including Aubrey Huff's two-run home run - and took the loss on Wednesday. In his prior appearance, he blew his first save in 19 chances.
Torre considered using Rivera in the ninth inning on Friday night, but relented and allowed Joba Chamberlain to finish the game.
Ordonez, the American League's leading hitter and Alex Rodriguez's chief competitor for MVP, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
Chien-Ming Wang will try and rebound from two subpar starts on Sunday in the finale of a seven-game homestand. Wang was pelted for a career-high of eight runs on nine hits in 2 2/3 innings in Toronto Aug. 8, the shortest start of his career, and has allowed 13 runs through 12 2/3 in his last two outings.
"I hope he just lets it go and trusts it instead of trying to make pitches," Torre said. "Just trust your ability and don't overthink the issue."