CHICAGO – Roger Clemens (search) has had more farewell seasons than the Houston Astros (search) and Chicago White Sox (search) have World Series titles. He's won more awards than every other player on both rosters combined. And on Saturday night, the 43-year-old Rocket starts for the Astros in his hometown team's World Series debut, opposed by former Yankees teammate Jose Contreras (search).
"It gets you really amped up again," he said before Friday's workout. "I'm excited about it. I ponder to myself this could be my last couple of starts — or your last one."
When last seen on the World Series stage, he exited to more popping strobes than a supermodel. Even opposing players applauded during Game 4 in Miami when he came out of the New York Yankees' extra-inning loss to the Marlins.
"I wasn't ready for all the flashes," Clemens said.
But that wasn't the end.
If Houston winds up winning this World Series, the best was yet to come.
While this is his sixth Series, Saturday night will be the first time he's pitched an opener.
"It comes with a lot of responsibility," he said, sounding as if he was carrying the entire state of Texas on his broad back. "I know that so many people are counting on me, and I enjoy that. I expect it, but it's the career I've led. So here we go again."
He wore a three-piece striped suit when he walked into the visitor's clubhouse, several days of beard growth darkening his face. In the locker between his and Andy Pettitte's, already dressed in an Astros' uniform, was 18-year-old Koby Clemens, his oldest son, who followed his dad around like a duck trailing a parent on a pond.
"It kind of gives me the old feeling back in the Yankees' days," Koby said. "The atmosphere in the clubhouse is awesome. It's even better in the hometown."
Born 46 days after his father made his World Series debut with the 1986 Boston Red Sox, Koby signed with the Astros in July. He hit .297 with four homers and 17 RBIs in 33 games for the Rookie League Greeneville Astros and .281 with six RBIs in nine games with the Class-A Tri-City Valley Cats.
"I've got three more behind him that care far more that I see them hit a double or make a big tackle than go out here and shake hands," daddy Clemens said, referring to sons Kory (17), Kacy (11) and Kody (9). "But they also get to share and reap the benefits of all this happening now, too. They get to see dad go out here and do this one more time."
Koby would rather watch than be watched.
"It's a lot more fun to watch him play and doing what he's doing right now at age 43," he said. "It's just remarkable. Usually athletes are long done with their career by them. His work ethic and everything have just been awesome."
While Clemens said in 2003 that his career was over, the decision by Pettitte to sign with the Astros that fall sparked him come out of retirement to pitch alongside his buddy. Like Texas beef, he's improved with age.
He won his seventh Cy Young Award in 2004, when Houston came a win short of reaching the World Series last year — Clemens lost Game 7 at St. Louis. He came back again this year, pitched through the death of his mother, Bess, and led the major leagues in ERA (1.87) for the first time since 1990. The 15-year gap between ERA titles was double the previous high, set by the Braves' Warren Spahn in 1947 and 1953.
He could become the first 300-game winner to get a World Series victory since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1926 and the oldest pitcher to win a World Series game, 15 days more senior than Dolf Luque, who got the win for the New York Giants in the finale of the 1933 Series against Washington. Clemens and Luque share Aug. 4 as their birthday, but Luque won on Oct. 7 while Clemens will be pitching on Oct. 22.
In another coincidence, Luque was born in Havana, also the birthplace of Contreras, who played with Clemens on the 2003 Yankees.
"I have to thank Roger very much because in Cuba I was throwing a two-seam fastball and he taught me how to throw a four-seam fastball," Contreras said through a translator. "Every time I did something wrong with my mechanics, he helped he correct my errors."
Clemens was pleased with the perseverance of the Astros, not himself. Houston is the first team to make the World Series after falling 15 games under .500 since the 1914 Boston Braves.
He made sure his sons paid attention.
"They learned a lifelong lesson this year, after where we've come from," he said. "You asked me April or May if it was the right decision, I might have laughed at you."