Clemens may not make Yankees better than Red Sox

By PA SportsTicker

Roger Clemens is a New York Yankee once again. Josh Beckett and the Boston Red Sox could care less.

The Red Sox may have been bidders for Clemens’ services this season, but having missed out, they just gave a short shrug of the shoulders and got back to winning again.

On Tuesday night, Beckett allowed one run in seven innings of a 9-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. He has seven wins, while no other pitcher has topped five.

Two days earlier - as Clemens was making his dramatic announcement at Yankee Stadium, - the Red Sox were busy completing a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins as ace Curt Schilling pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings.

With a six-game lead and what many consider to be the best rotation in baseball, all is well in Red Sox Nation, Clemens or no Clemens.

But the Yankees would have us believe that a rotation of Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and Philip Hughes can hold its own against Schilling, Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez.

Should Boston be worried?

The rotation has been the key to Boston’s early success. The five starters have a combined ERA of 3.71, giving up 80 earned runs in 194 1/3 innings.

If a healthy Jon Lester is able to replace Tavarez, who has an ERA of 6.48, things could get even better.

In contrast, the Yankees have had a deeply unsettled, injury-riddled rotation which has used a major league-high 10 different starters. They have given up 86 earned runs in 158 1/3 innings for an ERA of 4.90.

In salary and luxury tax penalties, Clemens will cost the Yankees around $26 million. For that, he is expected to return order to the rotation. Once Hughes returns from the disabled list, they should be a formidable unit indeed.

The Red Sox had been in the running for Clemens, hoping to lure “The Rocket” back to Fenway Park, where he began his career.

But it was not to be as the Yankees, gaining a little revenge after coming up short in the bidding war for Matsuzaka, blew them out of the water with a pro-rated salary of $28 million reportedly $10 million more than Boston offered.

Even so, Schilling does not think Clemens alters the balance.

“It would have been nice to have him, but we didn’t need him,” he said. “We don’t need him.

“It’s May - a long way to go - but I like the way this team is comprised right now. This team has incredible makeup, it’s got great chemistry, and I feel like we were a legitimate World Series contender without him. So it doesn’t change my mind.”

Never one to say something he doesn’t genuinely believe, Schilling may be right.

The Yankees’ staff appears impressive on paper but has a long way to go to match what the Red Sox are doing on the diamond.

Last season, Clemens had a 2.30 ERA in 19 starts for the Houston Astros. However, returning to the AL East will be a different scenario than pitching in the National League Central.

It would be no surprise if the 44-year-old Clemens’ ERA jumps by one full run. The lineups of the Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays are not quite as forgiving as those of the 2006 Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Clemens will combine with best buddy Pettitte who has an ERA of 2.72 to provide a strong 1-2 punch for the Yankees. Still, the top of Boston’s rotation looks better.

Schilling is no Clemens but is a genuine ace and the sort of guy you want on the mound in big games. Behind him, Beckett has dazzled this season, sporting an ERA of 2.51 and 40 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

There also is Matsuzaka in the No. 3 spot. Although he has experienced some growing pains in his recent starts, “Dice-K” has the sort of stuff that would make him an ace elsewhere.

Deeper in the rotation, Mussina’s career 3.64 ERA may be better than Wakefield’s 4.27. But Mussina had been in a decline until last season, when he won 15 games with an ERA of 3.51. Health has also become an issue for the 38-year-old, who is just back from the DL after a hamstring injury.

And Wakefield has been dominant this season. The knuckleballer is just 3-3 and has deserved better for his 2.11 ERA.

Both teams have questions at the back end of the rotation. Tavarez is troublesome and Hughes - who pitched 6 1/3 no-hit innings in his second major league start - is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

While Lester may be plugged in for Tavarez, the Yankees have very few appealing alternatives. One of them is $46 million Japanese import Kei Igawa, who already has been sent to the minor leagues and may have been an expensive mistake.

It’s unlikely that Clemens will share that distinction. But he may not be able to get the rotation back on par with Boston’s, either.

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Updated Wednesday, May 9, 2007