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Working to stay on top

Roger Clemens has nothing left to prove, yet his intensity motivates him to prove it anyway.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- This is the beauty of Roger Clemens.

Not the fastball that still arrives around 95 mph. Not the split-finger he has developed in later years. Not the strikeouts, the wins or the praise that continues to follow as he pitches into his late 30s.

The way Tampa Bay pitching coach Bill Fischer sees it, the beauty of Clemens is more subtle. Fischer saw it Friday, the day before Clemens pitched against the Rays. It was when the five-time Cy Young Award winner showed up early at Tropicana Field to run from foul pole to foul pole.

"It's the work ethic. That's what still amazes me. Day before he pitches, and he's out there running laps for 20 minutes," said Fischer, who was Boston's pitching coach when Clemens won his first Cy Young. "He's still the same. He doesn't have the same fastball, but he still takes it to you. You have to beat him with the bat, because he won't beat himself."

Few other teams have what it takes to beat Clemens. His victory against the Rays on Saturday made him the first American League pitcher to reach 10. Since coming off the disabled list in the middle of last season, Clemens is 19-3 in 34 starts.

Fifteen years after he was the starting pitcher for the All-Star Game, Clemens could start again.

He is on pace for his sixth 20-win season, but Clemens said his greater concern is keeping the rotation intact while Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez are disabled.

"I've won 20 games before," Clemens said. "My focus right now is being as solid as I can each time I go out. Get the job done, somehow, some way."

Mostly, Clemens gets the job done by overpowering the opposition. Even at 38. His fastball may have lost a tick or two, but he is the rare power pitcher who has maintained much of his velocity.

"He always looks good. All these years, he's been around and he's still a power pitcher," Rays rightfielder Randy Winn said. "He mixes it up so much, he's tough."

It helps, too, that Clemens now is completely at ease in the Yankees rotation. With all the pressure that followed his trade from Toronto to New York in the spring of 1999, Clemens seemed less forceful on the mound.

Manager Joe Torre said Clemens seemed to want to fit in with the low-key Yankees, and it affected his normally intense pitching style.

"He came over here with bells and whistles. He calls a lot of attention to himself because he's capable of striking out 20, he's done that a couple of times," Torre said. "It took him close to a year to get comfortable over here. He felt like he should come here and conform to our style.

"It took me about a half-season, maybe three-quarters of a season, to convince him that's not what we wanted. We needed him. I guess looking back, it makes you feel good that someone like Roger Clemens wanted to come over to the Yankees and try to be a Yankee. But we wanted Roger Clemens. That's when he got back to talking to himself on the mound and doing all the little things that fires him up."

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