After a five-day delay, the Rocket is set to relaunch.
The future Hall of Famer, who has 348 career wins and a record seven Cy Young Awards - including one with the Yankees in 2001 - to his credit, sat out the start of the season while letting teams bid for him for the second straight year. On May 6, he agreed to a one-year contract worth a pro-rated $28,000,022 - the last two digits matching his uniform number - to return to New York, where he won his only two World Series rings in 1999 and 2000, and posted a 77-36 record over five seasons.
He’ll be asked to provide a boost to a Yankees (28-31) club which has already used 11 other starting pitchers this season and, despite a season-high four-game winning streak, is three games below .500 and 10 1/2 games behind Boston for the AL East lead.
“It doesn’t make a difference if Roger Clemens is on the team or if you bring Babe Ruth back and put him on the team. We have to go out there and play,” said Yankees captain Derek Jeter, whose RBI infield single gave New York a 10-inning, 5-4 win in Friday night’s series opener. “Like I said, when we first signed Rocket, you can’t sit around and wait for him to come.
“It’s not like he’s going to have some magic over us when he gets here. You want him to give us the opportunity to win on the days he pitches.”
Clemens pitched well in 2006, but was unable to work any magic for a Houston Astros club which had a 37-35 record prior to his season debut on June 22. He went 7-6 with a 2.30 ERA in 19 starts, but Houston played .500 ball the rest of the way to finish 82-80 and miss its first postseason in three years.
The 44-year-old right-hander also showed his age, failing to last longer than seven innings in any of his outings. That could pose a problem for a New York bullpen which has a 4.43 ERA this season.
Clemens was originally scheduled to start Monday’s game at the Chicago White Sox after making three starts in the minors, but had his turn skipped due to a scar tissue injury in the right groin. After a 20-minute batting practice session Wednesday, he was pronounced ready to go, although he may be limited to around 90 pitches.
“The way to control the game is through pitching,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “To have Roger be a part of that mix is important. If he gives us five, six innings - whatever it is - we’re going to have to make due with that.”
Clemens went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA last season in two outings versus the Pirates, and is 5-1 with a 2.92 lifetime ERA in eight starts against them.
While New York has won seven of its last nine games, Pittsburgh (26-35) has dropped seven of 10 and appears on the way to its 15th consecutive losing season.
Chris Duffy’s two-run inside-the-park home run in the top of the seventh Friday gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead, which was short-lived after the Yankees scored twice to tie the game in the bottom of the inning.
“We played a great ballgame and we did everything we could do,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. “The unfortunate thing is that, obviously, offensively we had some good opportunities we couldn’t cash in.”
Sure to be overshadowed by Clemens, Paul Maholm (2-8, 5.35 ERA) takes the mound for Pittsburgh trying to avoid his fifth straight loss. The left-hander is 0-4 with a 5.29 ERA over his last five starts, including a 6-5 loss at home to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, when he allowed five runs and eight hits over 6 2/3 innings.
He has never faced the Yankees.