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Rocket doesn't rest on laurels

Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2003

NEW YORK Roger Clemens looked around his cluttered locker, stuffed with balls and jerseys and trinkets from a most historic night.

A bottle of champagne, he guessed from George Steinbrenner. A lineup card from Tony La Russa. A pair of glossy pictures, showing the Hall of Fame plaques for Lefty Grove and Early Wynn.

And Clemens had 300 messages to return and 4,000 souvenirs to sign. At least it seemed that way.

''It's all still coming in,'' he said Saturday, sounding a bit overwhelmed.

There was no rest for the Rocket.

Clemens earned his 300th career win and got his 4,000th strikeout Friday night in pitching the New York Yankees past St. Louis 5-2, then celebrated with his family and friends late into the evening.

By about 3:30 a.m., everyone was out of the house. Shortly before 10 a.m., his personal trainer came knocking on the door.

''I told him to go away,'' Clemens said. ''He came back around 10:15.''

So Clemens returned to work, running and doing agility drills and hitting the weight room.

''I did about half of what I'm used to doing,'' said Clemens, still recovering from a chest cold.

Then again, he didn't get this far by taking it easy, as pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre reminded him in the outfield Saturday before the Yankees played the Cardinals.

''He said, 'I hope you enjoyed it. You're going on Wednesday, get ready,''' Clemens said.

Intense as ever at 40 and already thinking about his next start against Tampa Bay, Clemens let himself have a little fun. He bounced around on the field with a big smile, greeting bunches of people. He hugged some, slapped others on the back.

He joked with Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the man who joined him on a visit to troops in Afghanistan and Kuwait last winter. He posed for a picture with Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria, Clemens' 4,000th strikeout victim Renteria playfully held up four fingers. He spoke with La Russa, the St. Louis manager. As Clemens made the rounds, the video board at Yankee Stadium played a tribute to him and the main scoreboard posed a trivia question in which he was the answer, naturally.

Clemens' win kept the Yankees in first place in the AL East. He became the 21st pitcher to reach 300 victories, getting to the milestone in his fourth try with a team that has been struggling.

''It's nice to get it over with,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said, ''even though I still don't feel it had anything to do with us not playing well.''

Clemens said he sensed his teammates had been a bit ''antsy'' in his previous bids. On Friday night, he said, he felt a different approach.

''It was time,'' he said.

Clemens wore nine different uniforms on his big night, switching in the clubhouse each inning. Four of them will go to his sons, another to the Yankees and certainly another to the Hall of Fame.

''I felt like Superman changing in a phone booth,'' he said.

Clemens still intends to retire after this season and insists he will have a Yankees cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. This is his fifth year with the Yankees after 13 with Boston and two with Toronto, and the folks in Cooperstown get to make the final call.

''They're not going to tell me what hat I'm wearing,'' Clemens said. ''I became a Hall of Famer here.''

While Clemens has reached all the big numbers he can envision, there is some urgency. Having lost his father as a boy, he wants his mother to attend his Hall induction, which would come in the summer of 2009 if he does not play beyond this year.

His mother, Bess, suffers from emphysema and is coming off a recent bout with pneumonia. She was not able to make it to the historic game.

''I don't want that seat to be empty,'' he said.

Clemens also does not want to leave empty-handed in his final season. His 10 strikeouts Friday night gave him an AL-leading 97, and he remains one of baseball's best power pitchers.

Yet he's got his eye on one final, bigger prize a third World Series ring.

''I still have unfinished business. My work's not done,'' he said. ''As far as going out on top to go out as a champion, that would be the top.''



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