NEW YORK (AP)—Five days after winning his 300th game, Roger Clemens almost made even more baseball history.
The Rocket took a no-hit bid through 7 1-3 innings—coming tantalizingly close to the only thing missing from his Hall of Fame pitching resume—but was long gone by the time the New York Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1-0 Wednesday night on Alfonso Soriano’s 12th-inning single.
“I’ve never thrown one since I’ve been playing ball, and I got on the mound when I was 7,” Clemens said. “If a no-hitter happens that’s great, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.”
Marlon Anderson lined an opposite-field single to left on a 3-2 pitch for the only hit off Clemens, lifted after eight innings and 116 pitches with the game still scoreless.
“Sometimes that’s my worst habit, I’m around the plate too much. I’ve got to try to bounce that one,” Clemens said. “It was a split that was up, and that’s a hittable pitch.”
Beginning his fourth inning of relief, Lance Carter (4-2) walked Robin Ventura in the 12th. Ruben Sierra’s hit-and-run single sent pinch-runner Enrique Wilson to third, and Raul Mondesi was walked intentionally to load the bases.
After pinch-hitter Todd Zeile struck out, Soriano looped a soft single to center over a drawn-in infield.
“He threw a slider down, outside my zone, and I just tried to make contact,” Soriano said.
Chris Hammond (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the victory. The Yankees have won six of seven since being no-hit by a record six Houston pitchers.
But the Yankees couldn’t score, sticking Clemens with a no-decision in one of the finest performances of his storied career.
“I thought Roger was going to get it,” manager Joe Torre said. “He looked so comfortable out there.”
On Monday night, Clemens made a cameo on “The Late Show with David Letterman” to read the Top 10 list. No. 4 made fun of Tampa Bay: “The best practical joke? Tell a teammate they’re traded to the Devil Rays.”
And Clemens was in complete control of their last-place lineup, dominating the Devil Rays with a diving split-finger fastball. He got 12 groundouts and struck out nine, passing teammate Mike Mussina for the AL lead with 106.
The pitcher who seems to have accomplished it all—a record six Cy Young Awards and two 20-strikeout games, an MVP, 300 wins and 4,000 strikeouts—is missing just one thing: a no-hitter.
“He’s the Rolls Royce of pitching,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said.
After Anderson’s hit, a loud crowd of 32,643, which began to get caught up in the drama about two innings before, gave Clemens a nice ovation.
“There were some nice plays. You sense it because the crowd is getting excited,” Clemens said. “But as far as guys not talking to you, that didn’t happen.”
The closest the Rocket has come to a no-hitter was for Boston on May 25, 1986, at Texas—Oddibe McDowell singled to break it up with two outs in the eighth. Clemens also threw 7 1-3 hitless innings against Cleveland on Sept. 10, 1988, before Dave Clark singled.
Clemens finished with a career-best one-hitter in that game, and threw a one-hitter with 15 strikeouts in the 2000 AL Championship series against Seattle.
On his fourth try at No. 300, Clemens beat the St. Louis Cardinals 5-2 last Friday night, becoming the 21st pitcher in major league history to reach the milestone.
He also became just the third pitcher with 4,000 strikeouts, joining Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Steve Carlton (4,136).
The Rocket retired his first 13 batters Wednesday before Travis Lee walked in the fifth. Anderson then reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second, but Clemens got Damian Rolls on a popup to end the inning.
Clemens has not pitched a regular-season complete game since May 28, 2000, a 2-0 loss to Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. … Tampa Bay’s Al Martin made a splendid diving catch in the left-field corner to rob Jorge Posada of extra bases in the second inning. … Former Yankees 3B Scott Brosius was at the game and got a nice ovation. … The Devil Rays released right-hander Steve Parris and recalled pitcher Brandon Backe from Triple-A Durham. … The Yankees had been 0-for-11 with runners in scoringposition before Soriano’s hit.