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Clemens' decision not that surprising

Clemens' decision not that surprising

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PHOENIX -- The Rocket's return to Planet Baseball came as no surprise to Randy Johnson. In fact, Roger Clemens essentially is taking the spot the Big Unit vacated in the Yankees' starting rotation when he was traded back to the Diamondbacks this past winter.

Clemens, 44, returned for a 24th season on Sunday in a dramatic announcement made over the public address system during the seventh-inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees defeated the Mariners, 5-0. He previously pitched for the Yankees from 1999 to 2003 and played for his hometown Astros in Houston the past three seasons.

Johnson was traded by the D-backs to the Yankees two years ago, winning 17 games in each of the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Clemens won 60 games in his first New York tenure.

"I think we all knew that he was going to come back," Johnson told MLB.com after the D-backs defeated the Mets, 3-1, on Sunday at Chase Field, snapping a 13-game home losing streak against the defending National League East champs. "He was in training and all that. I mean, he never officially retired. I know there had been a lot of talk about it. And I know the Yankees are in need of pitching right now with all the injuries they've had. So it's a pretty good fit, I would say."

Johnson, nearly 44 himself and rounding back into shape after offseason surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back, said it's a good thing for the game that elder statesmen like he and Clemens remain active.

"As long as we can still pitch well," said Johnson, who trails Clemens on the all-time list in two major categories -- wins (348 to 280) and strikeouts (4,604 to 4,563).

As far as Clemens replacing Johnson in New York, Johnson added: "That's not really the case. They had enough pitching there. The only reason he came back is because they had so many injuries."

Clemens plans to begin increasing his training immediately and will be paid a prorated portion of his salary once he ascends to the big leagues. When he comes back, the deal could pay Clemens as much $4.5 million a month. He earned a prorated $20 million from the Astros last year.

Roger Clemens

"If I had that type of money, believe me I would want to get the best," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said after his Minnesota club lost at home to the Red Sox on Sunday. "If I was [Yankees principal owner] George Steinbrenner, I'd do the same thing. Right now they were having pitching problems and they went and got Clemens. You can't be jealous. Just be happy for them. Because if I had the same thing, I'd go get the best, too."

With an eye on the schedule, the Diamondbacks, who defeated the Yankees in seven dramatic 2001 World Series games, visit Yankee Stadium for a three-game Interleague set from June 12-14.

When Johnson came off the disabled list against the Padres on April 24, he faced 44-year-old David Wells in the battle of the oldest left-handers in Major League history. R.J. could trump that if he faces Clemens, who will be 45 on Aug. 4.

"I get a feeling that we'll catch him right when he's rounding into shape and in the heat of battle," said Orlando Hudson, the Diamondbacks second baseman who played for Toronto the first time Clemens toured with the Yankees. "OK, here we go. He's in the rotation with [Andy] Pettitte and [Mike] Mussina? Wow! And Randy facing Roger in another 40-year-old battle? It'd be great for the game. Two first-ballot Hall of Famers."

This will be the second consecutive year that Clemens starts the season late. Last year, he pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, didn't re-sign with the Astros until May 31, and didn't make his first start for them until June 22. The right-hander finished 7-6 with a 2.30 ERA as the Astros were eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.

In 2005, Clemens helped the Astros to their first NL pennant, but his mother died that September and both his body and psyche seemed to wear down. Early in Game 1 of the World Series at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field, he severely injured his hamstring and had to come out after two innings. The White Sox ultimately swept the series.

That began the long decision-making process about whether he would retire or pitch a much-abbreviated season. For the seemingly umpteenth time since he supposedly pitched his last game during the 2003 World Series, Clemens has again beaten back retirement.

"It's not a bad thing that he's coming back," said Tom Glavine, the Mets' left-hander, who at a youthful 41 is seven wins shy of 300. "It's certainly a unique story. You're seeing an era where veteran guys are playing for a long, long time. Longer than they ever have been before. If I were a young player right now, that's something I couldn't help notice. If you're a good player and take care of yourself, you can play this game for a long time. That benchmark has certainly been moved the last few years."

Glavine going after 300; Jamie Moyer (at 44) still effective for the Phillies; Wells and Greg Maddux (at 42) still going strong for the Padres, Giants slugger Barry Bonds (at 42) only 11 homers behind Hank Aaron's all-time record 755, Moises Alou (at 41) still starting in left field for the Mets, Steve Finley (at 42) a backup outfielder for the Rockies, and finally Johnson and Clemens, who are both expected to still have a major impact.

"Obviously, it's a huge pickup for the Yankees," said Rangers shortstop Michael Young after the Rangers defeated the Blue Jays at home on Sunday. "The guy keeps himself in ridiculous shape and he's the best pitcher of all-time."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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