<
>

Sore hamstring forces Clemens to leave Game 3 early

NEW YORK -- Roger Clemens walked slowly off the mound with
his head hanging, snagged again by a balky hamstring in what could
have been his last major league appearance.

After yet another October injury, one of the greatest pitchers
in baseball history might finally be finished.

Bothered by an ailing leg, Clemens left his Game 3 start Sunday
night against Cleveland in the third inning with the Yankees
trailing and on the brink of playoff elimination.

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner got a pat on the chest from
Alex Rodriguez before trudging toward the dugout. New York rallied
to beat the Indians 8-4, but Clemens' status for the rest of the
postseason -- and his career, for that matter -- is in doubt.

"I don't want to say it's heartbreaking because he wouldn't
want me to say that. But the way he goes out there, he was very
unhappy when we took him out," manager Joe Torre said. "Not the
fact that, you know, he felt he could pitch more, it was just the
fact that he was there to do a job and he was really upset that he
had to leave."

Once in the dugout, the 45-year-old right-hander disappeared up
the runway toward the clubhouse.

Clemens insisted he couldn't even think about whether it was the
end of his career.

"I don't know," was about all he would say on the matter
before limping slightly as he walked out of the clubhouse with his
sons.

After the game, Torre said the Yankees are considering whether
to replace Clemens on the first-round roster. They can do that
under a new rule this year, but he wouldn't be eligible to pitch
again until the World Series.

Who knows if he'd even be healthy by then?

"That's being talked about now," Torre said. "I guess we have
to ask permission and stuff."

The hamstring started bothering Clemens when he broke for Kenny Lofton's bunt attempt.

"It activated in the second inning," he said. "Your
concentration has to move to another level when you have a
problem."

The Rocket put off retirement (again) with a rock-star
introduction from owner George Steinbrenner's box at Yankee Stadium
in early May.

Clemens came back, with a contract that paid him $17.4 million,
for just this type of situation -- a chance to help the Yankees in
October.

Turned out, they needed more than that. New York fell behind
Cleveland 2-0 in their best-of-five playoff series before sending
Clemens and his gimpy leg to the mound with the season on the line.
It was his first outing since Sept. 16 and second since Sept. 3
because of a cranky elbow and sore left hamstring.

"Roger's got a lot of guts. He always has," Cleveland manager
Eric Wedge said. "He was trying to tough it out out there, and I
think he took it about as far as he could go."

The Rocket worked out in Tampa, Fla., to get ready and
pronounced himself fit just a few days ago. But he never looked
comfortable on Sunday and was forced to leave early, just like his
previous postseason appearance.

Pitching for his hometown Houston Astros, Clemens hobbled off
the field after only two innings in Game 1 of the 2005 World Series
against the Chicago White Sox with a strained left hamstring, the
same injury that shelved him Sunday.

Clemens was ahead in the count 0-2 on Travis Hafner when Torre
and a trainer came out to check on him. The Rocket stayed in the
game and ended up walking Hafner, then went to a full count on
slugger Victor Martinez.

With Torre perched on the top step of the dugout, Clemens threw
one his best pitches of the night -- a fastball right past Martinez
for strike three.

But that was it, and Torre popped back out of the dugout to
remove his starter. Rookie righty Phil Hughes was given as much
time as he needed to warm up.

"I knew he had his hamstring wrapped after that inning before.
And I guess when he went over for Kenny's bunt he felt it a little
bit," Torre said.

Hughes tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings for the win, striking out
four and walking none.

Before he left, Clemens gave up a two-out RBI single to Ryan
Garko in the first inning and a solo homer to personal nemesis Trot Nixon in the second.

After Hughes came in, he threw a wild pitch before allowing an
RBI double to Jhonny Peralta that put Cleveland up 3-0 in the
third.

Clemens was hurt by shortstop Derek Jeter's bad throw in the
first inning, though the play was scored a hit. He yielded three
runs and four hits in 2 1/3 innings, with two walks and a
strikeout.

Headed to the Hall of Fame, Clemens has 354 wins and two World
Series titles. He ranks second on the career strikeout list with
4,672.

The Rocket went 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA for New York this season,
striking out 68 in 99 innings.