Cubs 5, Yankees 2
CHICAGO (AP)—Roger Clemens is going back to Yankee Stadium still searching for that elusive 300th victory.
The Rocket was outpitched by Kerry Wood, then watched his bullpen blow the lead and delay his entry into one of baseball’s most exclusive fraternities.
Clemens has been stuck on 299 career victories for three starts, the pressure building with each one.
“I apologized to Roger. Nobody wants to go in and screw up,” said Juan Acevedo, whose gave up the three-run homer to substitute Eric Karros that sealed the Chicago Cubs’ 5-2 victory over the New York Yankees on Saturday.
Shortly after Clemens left the game, the Yankees announced he had an upper respiratory infection and wouldn’t be speaking with the media after the game.
“I really don’t think it affected my pitching,” Clemens said on a quote sheet that was distributed to the nearly 500 media members assembled for the game.
Karros was only in the game after a scary collision in the fourth inning sent Cubs first baseman Hee Seop Choi to the hospital.
A group of about 40 family members and friends have traipsed around the country the past two weeks, hoping to see him become the 21st pitcher to win 300 games.
Now they have to pack their bags once more.
Clemens (6-4) will face St. Louis at Yankee Stadium on Friday night, trying to become the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1990 to reach 300.
Clemens lost to Boston in his first bid, then blew a six-run lead at Detroit.
“All it means is we have to answer a bunch more questions,” Derek Jeter said. “I think he’s just putting it off until we get to New York.”
If any setting was ever perfect for Clemens to get the milestone victory, Saturday was it. He’d never pitched at Wrigley Field, spending the 1990 All-Star game on the bench.
And this weekend, the Yankees are visiting the ballpark for the first time since the 1938 World Series, with the atmosphere as electric as any playoff series.
“The stadium was out of control,” Wood said. “The fans were great. Sometimes in the dugout you couldn’t even hear yourself think. It was awesome to be a part of.”
Topping it all off was the matchup: the Rocket vs. Kid K.
Like Clemens, Wood is a tall Texan with a sizzling fastball, and he was drawing comparisons to the Rocket even before he stepped on a big league mound.
In just his fifth start, he matched Clemens’ 20-strikeout record, throwing a one-hitter against the Houston Astros.
And Wood (5-4) brought that same nasty stuff with him Saturday, getting his 50th career victory and first win since April 29. He gave up just one run and three hits in 7 2-3 innings and struck out 11.
Wood’s idol growing up was another Texan—Ryan, whose No. 34 he wears—but it was clear how much this game meant to him. And it took on even more meaning when Choi got hurt in the fourth inning.
The Cubs had a shift on, and Jason Giambi hit a high popup toward third base. With third baseman Lenny Harris all the way over near second, Choi and Wood came in to grab the ball about 20 feet from home plate.
The next thing he knew, the two were colliding. Wood’s glove hit Choi in the face, knocking him backward. And with nothing to break his fall, the 6-5, 240-pound rookie slammed into the hard dirt of the basepath.
Choi lay motionless for more than 10 minutes trainers and doctors rushed to his aid and the worried Cubs gathered around him. Wood was particularly upset, and reliever Mike Remlinger came out to comfort him.
“I just tried to tell him, if he needed a reason or something to focus on, to keep himself going, make sure he finished the job for Hee Seop,” Remlinger said. “Because he would want nothing else than that.”
Wood crouched down on his knees and bowed his head as the ambulance left the field with its siren wailing. But when he stood back up, it was with an even greater intensity than he had before.
He struck out Jorge Posada to end the inning, and had eight strikeouts through the first five innings. He retired 14 of his first 15 batters, and didn’t allow a hit through 4 2-3 innings.
His luck appeared to run out when Hideki Matsui homered to right on a 3-2 pitch, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead. With the way Clemens was pitching, it looked as if that might be enough for the Yankees to improve to 6-0 at Wrigley Field.
“You can’t give up runs against him, against that team,” Wood said. “After the home run, I thought, `OK, we’ve got to stop it right there and hopefully we can put something together.”’
Clemens had allowed just two hits through his first six innings, dazzling the fans with fastballs that reached into the high 90s—he hit 99 mph on a pitch to Sammy Sosa.
But after striking out Corey Patterson to start the seventh, things fell apart.
Sosa—who hit his first career home run off Clemens—singled to left. Clemens then walked Moises Alou on five pitches. With Clemens sick, that was enough for Yankees manager Joe Torre.
“We knew that he was starting to run out,” Torre said. “Not pitch count-wise, it was just that whole upper respiratory that he’s been fighting for a week.”
As Cubs fans jeered and Clemens muttered, Torre patted his pitcher on the head and sent him to the dugout.
Clemens had thrown just 84 pitches, 55 for strikes.
“Roger never wants to come out of a game, but when you see him every time he pitches, you can pretty much make an evaluation,” Torre said. “Today’s game was nothing like last week. I felt very comfortable. Guys were in a good frame of mind.”
But Acevedo served up a long homer to Karros on the first pitch, giving Chicago a 3-1 lead and prolonging Clemens’ date with history.
“I’m sure Joe Torre had a good reason to take him out,” Karros said. “He threw a great game. And nine times out of 10, I’m probably not going to hit a three-run homer.”
Clemens allowed two runs and three hits in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out five, leaving him four short of 4,000 for his career, and walked one.
The Yankees threatened in the eighth, loading the bases with two outs before Mike Remlinger struck out Giambi. As Giambi whiffed mightily, Wood exchanged high-fives in the dugout with his teammates.
Jorge Posada hit a solo homer off Joe Borowski in the top of the ninth and then gave up back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners with two outs.
But with the Wrigley Field crowd of 39,363 on its feet chanting Choi’s name, Borowski set Juan Rivera down swinging.
“We definitely didn’t want Clemens to get 300 here,” Wood said. “We don’t like to lose at home, and we don’t want any milestones set at our place againstus.”
Wood has struck out 10 batters in three straight starts. … The Yankees won four times at Wrigley in sweeping the 1932 and 1938 World Series,and took Friday’s opener.