Roger Clemens has approached his last season in the majors with a quiet confidence, focusing on the final milestones of his Hall-of-Fame career.
The two aces of their respective staffs square off as the New York Yankees look to sweep their two-game set with the visiting Orioles.
Among the best pitchers of his era, Clemens cemented his placed in history earlier this season by becoming the 21st pitcher to win 300 games, and third to record 4,000 strikeouts. However, as his 20th season in the majors winds down, Clemens maintains this his in final year.
As such, the six-time Cy Young Award winner was a late addition to the AL All-Star team, replacing Oakland’s Barry Zito.
Clemens is 2-2 with a 3.94 ERA in six starts since winning that 300th game on June 13, including last Friday’s 10-4 win over Cleveland. The hard-throwing right-hander allowed four runs and seven hits over six innings, striking out eight and walking two.
However, he was disappointed with himself for squandering an early three-run lead.
“I let them back in the game,” he said. “You just can’t do that.”
Ponson is finally flashing the form that has been expected of him since he broke into the majors in 1998.
The right-hander established a new career high with 13 victories in Saturday’s 8-4 triumph over the Anaheim Angels. He gave up four runs—three earned—and nine hits over 6 1-3 innings, striking out three and walking two.
After entering the season 41-53, including a 7-9 showing last season, Ponson has won 12 of his last 15 starts, prompting plenty of speculation about his future.
Ponson is a free agent at season’s end, and the Orioles may trade him before the July 31 deadline rather than risk losing him in the offseason without getting anything in return.
The Orioles presented Ponson with a three-year, $15 million deal last week. But the feisty 26-year-old feels slighted by the offer.
“I didn’t like what they offered me at first, but it’s a start,” said Ponson, whose best season before this year with in 1999 when he finished 12-12. “It showed they want me to stay here. I am happy that they want me here, but I am not happy what they put on the table. But I’m not going to worry about it.”
The Orioles’ six-game win streak was snapped with Wednesday’s 4-2 loss as Andy Pettitte tied a career high by winning his seventh straight decision.
STANDINGS: Orioles - 4th place, 14 1/2 GB, AL East. Yankees - 1st place, AL East.
ORIOLES PROBABLE STARTER: Ponson (13-5, 3.67 ERA). Ponson has struggled in his career against the Yankees, going 2-8 with a 4.74 ERA in 18 career appearances, including 17 starts.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Clemens (9-6, 3.79 ERA). Clemens is 17-10 with a 3.44 ERA and six complete games, including two shutouts, in 40 career starts against Baltimore.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Orioles - Melvin Mora, .338 avg.; Tony Batista, 18 HRs; Jeff Conine and Jay Gibbons, 69 RBIs; Conine, 59 runs; Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts, 14 SBs. Yankees - Matsui, .300 avg.; Jason Giambi, 28 HRs and 79 RBIs; Alfonso Soriano, 78 runs and 26 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Yankees, 2-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Orioles - OF Gibbons is hitting .375 with two homers and five RBIs in 16 career at-bats against RHP Clemens. … Seven of Baltimore’s last 10 games have been decided by two runs or fewer and each of their last eight losses have been by one or two runs. … The Orioles have been successful on 24 of their last 28 stolen base attempts. Yankees - 1B Giambi is batting .484 with two homers and eight RBIs in 31 career at-bats against RHP Ponson. … 3B Ventura is riding a five-game hitting streak (.400; 6-for-15) after going 0-for-19 in his previous seven games. … LHP Jesse Orosco, acquired Tuesday from San Diego, left the West Coast Wednesday morning headed for Baltimore, where he thought the game was being played. Orosco was rerouted when he got to Nashville, Tenn., and made it to Yankee Stadium in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s contest.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Orioles - 20-27 on the road; Yankees - 30-20 at home.
INJURIES: Orioles - OF Larry Bigbie (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Omar Daal (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Willis Roberts (elbow), 15-day DL; LHP Erik Bedard (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Scott Erickson (shoulder), 60-day DL; 2B Jerry Hairston Jr. (foot), 60-day DL; OF Albert Belle (hip), 60-day DL; OF Marty Cordova (elbow), 60-day DL. Yankees - 1B-DH Nick Johnson (hand), 15-day DL; RHP Jose Contreras (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Steve Karsay (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Jon Lieber (elbow), 60-day DL.