MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Warming up in the bullpen, Roger Clemens heard the taunts from Twins fans: This was it for the Rocket.
“You just want to try and be defiant,” Clemens said. “You just don’t want that to be the case.”
Knowing this could be the final start of his storied career, Clemens made Hideki Matsui’s early home run stand up and led the New York Yankees over Minnesota 3-1 Saturday for a 2-1 lead in their AL playoff series.
Cruising through seven innings, Clemens quieted the Metrodome crowd of 55,915 before letting Mariano Rivera take over for his second straight two-inning save.
“When you see Roger Clemens pitching like that, you just follow his steps,” said Rivera, who has retired all 12 batters he’s faced.
“We’ve got two more games to go, as far as we look at it,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We feel good.”
They’ll have to start hitting, though, if they want to keep going. The Twins managed only four hits against Andy Pettitte and Rivera in a 4-1 defeat in Game 2 and are batting .179.
“We need some guys to step up and hit, and we’ll see what happens,” center fielder Torii Hunter said. “Last year we were down against Oakland. This is the same thing. Who knows what can happen?”
Though the Twins didn’t put up much of a fight, the adrenaline rush for Clemens was as strong as ever.
“If you don’t have that, maybe something’s wrong with you,” he said. “I still have that, and I’m glad I do.”
Nobody expected Clemens to be rattled, not even in the noisy dome—where the Twins are still 13-4 all-time in the playoffs and where opponents often struggle with the dingy roof and the bouncy turf.
Clemens gave up five hits, a run and a walk for the victory. He struck out six in his 23rd career postseason start.
“He has a lot of pride,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
The crowd was roaring from the start, moved by third-base coach Al Newman’s ceremonial first pitch to Gardenhire. Newman suffered a hemorrhage in his brain Sept. 10 in Chicago and spent more than two weeks in the hospital.
Kyle Lohse had a hopping fastball to match the early clamor in his first career postseason start for the Twins. His first of five strikeout victims, Derek Jeter, fanned in the first inning on a neck-high 96 mph pitch.
After the first inning, Torre told his team to be ready for the high fastball.
With Bernie Williams on base after a leadoff double in the second, the Japanese League star sent a first-pitch fastball into the upper deck for a 2-0 lead.
“He’s such a student of the game,” Torre said. “It makes me relaxed not having to say a lot of things to him.”
Said Lohse: “I killed the momentum with the homer.”
Clemens, who earned his first major league victory at the Metrodome on May 20, 1984, with Boston, insists this season is his last.
The 41-year-old right-hander put on a vintage performance, spotting his fastball with perfection, keeping the Twins totally out of whack and unable to start the aggressive running game that helped them win Game 1.
Minnesota crept to 3-1 on A.J. Pierzynski’s leadoff homer in the third and had a runner on with two outs for Hunter in the fourth. But Hunter struck out, his 13th in 23 hitless career at-bats against Clemens.
“It’s sad to see a Hall of Famer have to go,” Hunter said. “But maybe he’ll come back so I can get my first hit off him.”
Doug Mientkiewicz singled to center to start the sixth and went to second on a bobble error by Williams—whose costly misplay in Game 1 turned a single by Hunter into a triple.
But Clemens retired the next three—Matthew LeCroy on a groundout, Jacque Jones on a strikeout and Hunter on a groundout—to silence the crowd and basically crush any chance the Twins had of coming back.
They went 1-2-3 in the seventh, and Rivera struck out three.
Lohse took the loss on his 25th birthday, giving up six hits and walking twoin five innings.
Williams went 2-for-3 with two walks (one intentional), driving in rookie Juan Rivera with a single in the third. Williams is 6-for-11 with three RBIs in his career against Lohse. … Shannon Stewart has reached base in seven out of 13 plate appearances for the Twins this series—without scoring a run. … Hitting coach Scott Ullger has been filling in for Newman at third. … Matsui hit 332 homers in 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants and 16 as a rookie this year for New York. That was his first homer in these playoffs. … Kenny Rogers struck out the side in the sixth for the Twins, whose bullpen has a 1.69ERA in 10 2-3 innings this series.