Needing win, Yanks go with Clemens

Needing win, Yanks go with Clemens

NEW YORK -- It's no secret what's at stake for the Yankees. While driving to Yankee Stadium on Saturday, Roger Clemens glanced toward the upper rim of his home ballpark, where each year of New York's World Series championships is inscribed.

The most recent crown came in 2000, which would be an acceptable gap for most teams -- just not for the one that resides in the Bronx. Now, after dropping the first two games of the American League Division Series to the Indians, the Yankees are one defeat away from adding another lost season to their recent drought.

"It's been a long seven years," said Clemens, who will take the mound for New York during a critical Game 3 clash with Cleveland on Sunday night. "You know, that's what the goal is here -- very high expectations. You either like that or you don't."

With 34 postseason appearances over 24 seasons, the 45-year-old Clemens is more than familiar with the kind of pressure-packed assignment he's about to embark on. This time around, Clemens is going to be pushing his aging body to the limit for the Yankees -- potentially for the last time in his storied career.

Clemens hasn't started for New York since Sept. 16 due to blister, elbow and hamstring woes, which forced the Yankees to shut the right-hander down at the end of the season. Since that last outing, he's worked religiously to prepare himself for a playoff outing, and New York needs Clemens more than ever at this critical turn.

"The only thing you have to concentrate on now is winning," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I mean, we need to win one game just to get the momentum switched around a little bit. And Roger, of course, is certainly capable. He feels good, and we feel good about him."

Clemens has already shown this season that he's able to bounce back successfully after an extended layoff. He sat out for nearly two weeks between his final two outings of the regular season, but he spun a gem in his last start. In that Sept. 16 game against Boston, Clemens allowed just one run on two hits over six innings.

On Tuesday, Clemens threw 69 pitches in a simulated game against Minor League hitters at New York's Spring Training complex in Tampa, Fla. He also took fielding practice to test his ailing left hamstring, showing no ill effects from the issue that sidelined him at the end of the season. The work Clemens has put in has the Yankees convinced he'll be able to handle Sunday's start.

"I think anybody else besides him, you'd be kind of concerned, because he hasn't pitched much," Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte said. "But he showed in Boston that he could take a pretty significant layoff and come back and throw extremely well. That's extremely difficult to do.

"You wouldn't want anybody else throwing for us," he added. "I expect he'll get locked in, and I expect he'll throw a good game for us. It's going to be exciting. He's going to feed off the crowd, I think, and this place is going to be exciting."

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With elimination only one loss away, though, Torre isn't going to take any chances. If Clemens shows any early signs of rust, New York's manager said that "everybody's on deck" out of the Yankees bullpen. New York hasn't decided on a probable Game 4 starter, but pitchers Phil Hughes and Mike Mussina could follow Clemens on Sunday.

Then again, Clemens doesn't want it to get to that point. His goal is to last into the later innings to avoid putting any added strain on New York's pitching staff. Clemens understands that he may not boast his most impressive stuff when he takes the hill at Yankee Stadium, but he knows he can turn to the competitiveness that has carried him through many playoff games in the past.

"I trust that I've done enough work to stay sharp," Clemens said. "If I'm not, it really doesn't matter. I've got to go out and be aggressive. What I lack in stuff, I'll throw my heart out there, like I always have.


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"I've got a lot of will and desire -- doesn't matter my age. I draw on a lot of energy. You know, if my body feels good or bad, I don't worry about it. I expect to have aches and pains -- over the last 10 years I've had it."

In between innings on Sunday, Clemens said he would probably have some treatment done on his faulty hamstring, but he chose not to go into specifics.

"I'm going to be doing some things, but I'm not going to talk about it in here," Clemens said. "I don't think it's anything I want to put out there for anybody to know."

Over Clemens' career, the 354-game winner has posted a 27-8 mark with a 3.13 ERA against the Indians, though he didn't face Cleveland this season. In 25 of his 33 postseason starts, Clemens has limited the opposition to three runs or fewer.

Clemens owns two World Series rings -- the most recent coming with the Yankees' last title in 2000. Adding a third appears to be a tall task, but one that Clemens is up for.

"The games that you've got to battle a little bit," Clemens said, "and you come out on top and win those games, whether you get the win or not -- those are gratifying. That's how you win a lot of ballgames. That's how you stay around in this league for a long time."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.