Clemens falls flat

HOUSTON -- It's all Jack McKeon's fault. How could he start that Roger Clemens guy? Didn't he know it was really Ben Sheets that America wanted to see?

No, wait. It's all Clay Walker's fault. Keeping Roger up late, singing those country tunes at the All-Star Gala, way after the clock had ticked beyond midnight. Didn't he know this guy had a ball game to pitch? And maybe he missed that news that it counted, too.

OK, hold on. It's gotta be Mike Piazza's fault. How can we not call out the Oliver Stone conspiracy investigators when the Rocket pitches to his dastardly nemesis for the first time ever -- and comes out of it with a 27.00 ERA?

Villains, friends. We need villains. We need people to blame. What we had here, in baseball's 75th All-Star Game, was the perfect script. We had it all figured. It came to us in a vision -- a vision that looked kind of like this:

Hometown icon takes the mound as tears flow and vocal cords rupture.

Strikes out six guys in a row on 18 pitches, all of which are clocked at 146 miles per hour.

After which Roger Clemens leaves to one final thunderous standing O, putting a perfect poetic stamp on his glorious All-Star career.

Remember it. Savor it. And please buy the DVD for a mere $29.99.

Yeah, that's how this All-Star Game should have unfolded Tuesday night. Unfortunately, this game of baseball is sure one screwy sport. Its beauty is that it makes no sense, follows no scripts, constantly allows the impossible to become possible.

Somehow, though, we have a feeling that "beauty" is not a word the great Roger Clemens will be using to describe the seemingly impossible stuff that happened to him on this particular All-Star evening.

Unfortunately, we're forced to speculate on Roger's exact choice of words, since Clemens was long gone by the time the American League had finished administering a 9-4 whomping on Roger and his National League buddies.

So the only media member allowed to converse with him, on this stupendous evening, was Fox's Joe Buck. Whom he told, succinctly, during an on-the-field ceremony in the middle of the game: "I put our guys in a hole."

Yep. That he did, all right. It just happened to be a hole the size of Bryce Canyon.

Six runs. Two homers. Four extra-base hits. In the first inning. Yikes.

So how bizarre was that?

This guy had made 650 career starts before this game (regular-season and postseason) -- 652 if you count his two previous All-Star starts. And not once had he given up six runs in the first inning. But he did in this game.

"Well," philosophized his teammate for a day, Tom Glavine, "just another 'first' in his storied career."

Except, we regret to report, it wasn't the only "first."

In Clemens' eight previous All-Star appearances, he'd faced 40 hitters -- and given up a total of one extra-base hit (a 1991 homer to Andre Dawson). It took him precisely six pitches to serve up twice that many in this game (an Ichiro Suzuki double on pitch No. 3, a Pudge Rodriguez triple on pitch No. 6).

But that, we're afraid, was just the beginning. Because Clemens needed only seven hitters to give up the first team cycle (in either an inning or a game) in All-Star history.

"What?" said his trusty NL teammate, Sean Casey. "Really? That's amazing."

"Amazing." Good word for it. "Weird." Sean Casey used that one, too. "Odd." He fired that out there. Then came several more "amazings."

"It happened so fast," Casey said. "We were all so excited to see Rocket go out and pitch. We just didn't expect that."

Heck, the only people who expected that were the people who picked Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson, Joe Namath over the mighty Colts and Greece as the pick to click in that European soccer tourney a couple of weeks back. When you took in the astounding two-way lovefest between Clemens and his hometown this week, you'd have been much more likely to predict a remake of Pedro At Fenway, 1999, than that.

So what the heck happened? Well, in retrospect, it's clear now that Clemens didn't so much pitch this game as he did serve as its grand marshall. Consider his insane itinerary these last few days:

He left the Astros on Saturday, a day before the All-Star break arrived for the rest of them, so he could jet back from L.A. to Houston to host a kids' clinic on Sunday at the All-Star Fanfest.

Then came Monday. The day started with him slipping on his suit and tie before breakfast so he could rush downtown for a morning press conference, where he got to perfect his dodgeball moves on all those "how-bout-you-and-Piazza" questions.

The day didn't end till many, many hours later, way after Conan O'Brien's signoff, because Clemens felt obliged to go serve as the No. 1 VIP of the All-Star Gala. Where he shook hands, posed for pictures, hugged babies and wound up on stage with his country-chart pal Clay Walker, singing harmonies with the unlikely backup-vocal duo of Curt Schilling and Harold Reynolds.

"I'm pretty sure," Schilling said Tuesday, "that's not his normal routine the night before he pitches. In fact, I talked to him today about it. I said, 'Listen, I need that new routine you've got going -- the one where you're out till 2:30 in the morning. That's a lot more fun than the one I'm using.' "

Then again, if this is what happens when Clemens gets out of his normal zone, we'd advise all his National League rivals to take copious notes -- and maybe see if they can lure him into a similar trap when he visits their towns these next few months.

"Yeah, we can have him over for a barbecue," Casey chuckled. "And get a couple of press conferences held for him. That shouldn't be too hard to arrange."

Yeah, great plan. Except if you know Roger Clemens at all, you know that, if anything, this game is just going to motivate him to throw about 11 consecutive shutouts once that second half resumes.

Not many Cy Young winners have gone through anything like this. But there is one guy who can relate to it. And that's Glavine, who was given the honor of starting the 1992 All-Star Game in San Diego -- and unfurled a nine-hit, five-run disaster in a 1 2/3-inning nightmare.

"It happened to me in '92," Glavine said Tuesday night. "It's not a lot of fun. As an athlete, you never want to do anything to embarrass yourself. And when you do, your pride is hurt a little bit. But in the end, it doesn't matter. As I said in '92, if this was going to happen, I'd rather have it happen in the All-Star Game than in the seventh game of the World Series.

"Looking back on it now, I heard all the 'Oh-my-Gods, what's-that-going-to-do-to-him-for-the-second-half?' kind of questions. But then you know what happened? I think I went out and threw a shutout in my next start."

And darned if he didn't, too -- for seven innings, anyway. In fact, he was so shaken by that All-Star start, he only wound up going 20-8.

"Hey, it bothered me," Glavine said. "I'll admit that. "But it didn't last long. It lasted until my next start. And then everything was OK."

And if we were a team lined up to face Roger Clemens in the next couple of weeks, we'd be making sure all our health-insurance payments were up to date, or seeing if there was some way to induce our wife to go into labor that day. Because the Rocket Man we know is going to be looking for some payback.

"The only good thing," Glavine said, "is that it didn't count. A lot of people see it. But it doesn't count."

And when the games that do count resume, we can just about guarantee you Clemens won't be thinking about Mike Piazza, Clay Walker or what color tie to wear to his press conference.

No, he'll be a man on a mission. And his little All-Star debacle is going to be the super unleaded that keeps his tank filled for every last stop on that mission express.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.