HOUSTON (AP) -- While Roger Clemens returned to the mound for his
23rd major league season, his Houston Astros teammates got a close
look at a future ace in Francisco Liriano.
|Olney: It'll get better|
Roger Clemens was OK. Not great, not terrible. Plain ol' OK. And for someone who is 43 and stepping into the middle of a marathon when all the other runners are warmed up and in midrace form, not bad.
But Clemens looked healthy, and he will get better. The last month Clemens was fully healthy, this past August, he had an ERA of 1.70 and opposing hitters batted .166. Is he going to get to that point again? I don't know. But he's at least going to be good, once he gets his legs back, and he may well be a difference-maker in the NL playoff race.
• For more of Buster Olney's analysis, click here.
Minnesota's 22-year-old phenom pitched seven scoreless innings
to lead the Twins to a 4-2 win over Houston in Clemens'
much-anticipated 2006 debut.
The Rocket was looking for his 342nd win. Instead it was
Liriano, only 7 months old when Clemens started his big league
career, who earned his eighth victory.
"That's as good as we've seen," Astros manager Phil Garner
said. "Let me say that again -- that's the
best we've seen so far."
The 43-year-old Clemens (0-1), a seven-time Cy Young Award
winner, left after throwing 100 pitches in five innings. It was his
first major league start since leaving Game 1 of the World Series
exactly eight months ago with a strained hamstring. He allowed six
hits and two runs while striking out four and walking two.
"I'm trying to fight off age the best I can and I'll do the
work," Clemens said. "I came in as a power pitcher, I want to go
out as one. That's the objective."
Liriano (7-1) gave up just four hits in eight innings and didn't
allow a run until Jason Lane's two-run homer in the eighth, helping
the Twins to their ninth win in 10 games and their fourth straight
Joe Nathan worked the ninth for his 11th save.
"It was fun to watch Roger," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire
said. "But on our side it was actually more fun to watch
Francisco. He's what we come to see."
The sellout crowd of 43,769 was the largest in the history of
Clemens, who wears jersey No. 22, re-signed with the Astros on
May 31 for a one-year contract worth $22,000,022. Since he's
joining the team late, he'll get a portion of that amount -- about
$12.25 million. He had three tuneup starts in the minors before
joining the Astros.
"It was positive," Clemens said. "My body felt better than
expected and I hope and expect to get stronger each time I get out
Liriano faced the minimum through the first six innings, thanks
to double plays in three of them. He walked Craig Biggio leading
off the seventh before retiring three straight batters.
Liriano seemed unfazed by all the hoopla surrounding Clemens'
"I feel about the same as I always do," he said. "I just put
it out of my mind and don't think about it. I didn't want to put
too much pressure on myself."
It was the longest outing of the season for Liriano, who struck
out a career-high 11 batters in his last start. He fanned seven and
walked two Thursday.
"He didn't leave anything over the plate to hit," Astros
shortstop Adam Everett said. "It's pretty amazing. I think we
faced one of the premier pitchers in the game right now."
Clemens' early departure was likely precipitated by his
struggles in the third inning. He gave up an RBI double to Jason
Kubel and a run-scoring single to Michael Cuddyer.
"I'm disappointed. There was one pitch I'd like to have back,"
Clemens said, referring to Kubel's double. "Other than that, it
was just a good battle. It was a good challenge for me."
The Rocket then walked Justin Morneau, sending catcher Brad
Ausmus and pitching coach Jim Hickey to the mound for a short chat.
"I had that one long inning and I was trying to make a point to
work fast and see how winded I could get and it worked out fine,"
Clemens made 35 pitches in the first two innings combined, but
had thrown 38 more by the time he struck out Torii Hunter to end
"Roger's 43, there's no way he's going to be like he used to,"
said Hunter, who is 0-for-22 with 13 strikeouts against Clemens.
"He's throwing 91 (mph), not 98 or 99 like he used to. You can't
expect him to be that great. But he still looks good."
The Twins extended their lead to 3-0 in the sixth when Morneau
homered off Russ Springer. Hunter had an RBI single in the eighth.
In the fifth, Clemens lumbered over to cover first base on a
3-6-1 double play. He pointed at the umpire to make sure he got the
call before slowly retreating to the mound.
Early on, he showed his signature pinpoint control. Two of
Clemens' first three pitches were 91 mph fastballs for strikes. On
the fourth, Luis Castillo hit a chopper over the mound. Clemens
jumped to glove it, but dropped the ball on the way down and
couldn't scoop it up before Castillo reached first base safely.
Clemens was charged with an error.
The next batter grounded into a double play before Joe Mauer,
who leads the majors in hitting, struck out.
This game continued a trend from last year as the Astros failed
to give Clemens much run support. The Rocket was 13-8 with a
career-best 1.87 ERA in 32 starts last season, but Houston was shut
out in nine of his starts and scored two runs or less in five
"Hopefully, it won't be like last year," Everett said.
Fittingly, it was University of Texas night at Minute Maid Park
as its favorite former baseball player took the mound. The sellout
crowd that gave him a standing ovation when he took the mound was
peppered with Clemens jerseys, from both the Astros and Texas, and
many fans held signs.
Among the most clever was a man in what looked to be a space
suit, holding one that read: "That's a Roger Houston Our Rocket
Has Landed." Another read: "Clemens is proof the 40s is the new
Between the first and second innings a video segment played on
the stadium screen featuring Astros pitchers discussing Clemens'
performance when he came out of the bullpen to pitch in Houston's
18-inning playoff win over the Braves last season.Game notes
The Astros purchased Clemens' contract from Triple-A Round
Rock before the game. ... Cuddyer extended his hitting streak to
- Home Plate Umpire - Jeff Kellogg
- First Base Umpire - Jerry Meals
- Second Base Umpire - Andy Fletcher
- Third Base Umpire - Mike Reilly