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Clemens proves 'twilight' comment wrong

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000

PHILADELPHIA -- Dec. 13, 1996, was the day the unthinkable happened in New England. It was the day the beloved Boston Red Sox let Roger Clemens walk away and sign as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays.

In his attempt to let rabid Red Sox fans know that parting with a three-time Cy Young Award winner was the right thing to do, Boston general manager Dan Duquette made the now-infamous observation that Clemens was "in the twilight of his career."

Everyone should have such brilliant twilights.

Since leaving Boston, Clemens has chiseled a few more impressive feats onto his Hall of Fame plaque. He won two more Cy Young Awards in Toronto and last year earned a World Series ring with, of all teams, the hated New York Yankees. (Take that, Duquette.)

Now, at age 38, Clemens is once again showing how foolish Duquette was to make that "twilight" remark four years ago.

After a lackluster first half of the season, Clemens has reminded everyone that he still is one of the game's most dominant pitchers. His fastball is regularly topping 95 mph. His splitter has been devastating. He's pitching like he's 28 again. Call him Retro Rocket.

"He's been like a locomotive," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He's getting stronger and stronger.

"He's got that old body language and attitude that he goes out there and dares people to beat him."

Clemens hasn't lost since June 9. Since coming off the disabled list July 2, he is 9-0 with a 2.21 ERA in 15 starts. He has pitched seven or more innings in 12 of those 15 starts. He has taken a rotation on the brink of falling apart in July and given it a rock at the most crucial stage of the season.

Clemens' second-half charge has earned him a three-year contract extension and has given people legitimate reason to believe he can reach 300 wins (he's currently at 260) and become the all-time American League strikeout leader.

With 3,486 career strikeouts, Clemens needs 23 to break Walter Johnson's AL record of 3,508. Nolan Ryan is the major-league strikeout king with 5,714. He recorded 3,355 of them in the AL.

The keys to Clemens' recent rise -- and his future success for that matter -- have been his health and his decision to start commanding the inside corner again.

Clemens has always been a "legs" pitcher.

Over the past two seasons, however, Clemens has had leg problems. And when his legs aren't healthy, he's very average. Last season, he battled a left hamstring pull and finished 14-10.

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