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December 06, 2001

Clemens crafting regal legacy
By Rob Dibble

Anybody who thinks Roger Clemens shouldn't be the unanimous winner of the American League's 2001 Cy Young award should think again. Let me just start by saying that I think -- no, I know -- he is one of the greatest players ever to put on a baseball uniform.

Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens starts Game 5.
When you think of greatness, you think Babe Ruth. You think Joe DiMaggio. You think Ted Williams and Hank Aaron. For pitchers, you think Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer. When these guys played, it was as if royalty took the field. This is a status few players can ever hope to attain. And the Rocket is already there. This season, he is merely adding to his remarkable legacy.

Clemens is 17-1. Yes, it's a number to gawk at: Roger Clemens has lost just one game, and he's won 17. How awesome is that? This alone should merit a ton of votes. But let's break down some numbers and also look at what a player of his stature does for his team.

In the Rocket's 27 starts, the Yankees have won 24 times. That means that nearly 90 percent of the time, when Clemens takes the mound, his team has a "chance" to win. That's all you need, a chance, some hope, when your butt is dragging in August and September and you are 1-for-your-last-20. Just seeing the Rocket jogging out to pitch the first inning is an instant rush of adrenaline and focus.

Sure, Clemens is 39 years old and doesn't have a complete game this year. But look at some other numbers. Following a loss this year, the Yankees have won 11 times in games the Rocket has started. He's 5-0 since the All-Star break; overall, he's 10-0 at home and 7-1 on the road. The Yankees haven't lost a game the Rocket has started since May 20.

Oh, and when you say that he pitches on a staff with Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Orlando Hernandez, you might want to think again about how much that has helped him. Remember, he has taken the mound after a loss many times this year. Those other three pitchers combined are 26-25.

Clemens' 17-1 mark is all the more valuable because El Duque has been hurt and Mussina has been inconsistent. To be fair, that list of other Yankees starters also includes Sterling Hitchcock, Ted Lilly, Randy Keisler and Randy Choate. Not to slam those guys, but they have not been operating on Roger's level, though very few pitchers have this year.

I'll leave you with this to ponder: Roger has thrown almost 4,000 innings over the course of his career and struck out 3,680 batters. And that doesn't include spring training games or the postseason. Yet he is in the best shape of his career and there is no more feared pitcher in the game. So while there may be some dukes and princes pitching in the major leagues, there is only one king. To me, a sixth Cy Young is a lock. And that is amazing.

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Roger Clemens brings the heat on ESPN's Up Close.
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Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens reflects on his 17-1 record.
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