Day 1: Astros | Extra Innings
KISSIMMEE, Fla. – You are Jimy Williams and you have what can only be categorized as a no-lose decision concerning your Opening Day pitcher.
Do you, the Houston Astros manager, hand the ball over to Andy Pettitte, a 21-game winner last year with the Yankees and hometown kid-come-home? Or do you go with Roger Clemens, the 300-win future Hall of Famer who came out of retirement (albeit a brief one) to pitch for his hometown team?
Who's it going to be?
"Roy Oswalt," Williams said Sunday as pitchers and catchers reported here to Astros camp.
Roy Oswalt, a 26-year-old righty from little Kosciusko, Miss., who went 10-5 with a 2.97 ERA for the Astros last season. Get to know him because he'll be on the hill April 5 in Minute Maid Park. Due to the off-season signings of Pettitte and Clemens, it may rank as the most anticipated Houston Opening Day ever.
Williams is going with Oswalt because of what he did a year ago. Despite three trips to the disabled list, he refused to shut it down for the season and came back to pitch four games during the September pennant race. He won all four starts.
"He could have packed it in," Williams said. "He could have said, 'I'm injured and I need an operation.' But no, he didn't do that. He rehabbed so he could possibly come back and try and pitch in September. He went the extra mile. I just want to reward the kid for what he did."
That's fine with the big-name newcomers.
"I think Roy deserves the start," Pettitte said.
For Williams, who opened his informal press conference here with the announcement in front of a gaggle of reporters who had come to talk about Clemens and Pettitte, it ends a month of speculation on which ex-Yankee would get the nod.
"I've been bludgeoned with this question, so I figure why not get it out in the open here and tell you who it is?" Williams said. "We have to name somebody, so let's do it today. It's getting you people off my back. Maybe it makes it easy on me."
The Astros' starting rotation will be Oswalt, Pettitte, Clemens, Wade Miller and Tim Redding. Williams said the lefty Pettitte is one spot ahead of Clemens in the rotation to split up right-handers Oswalt and Clemens.
"I've never put numbers on starters," Williams said.
Roger Clemens has pitched a lot of great games through his illustrious career. And until now, his Astros teammates have been forced to watch from afar. Or on the other bench. Their favorite?
"Probably when he was with Boston and struck out 20," said pitcher Kirk Saarloos. Of course, Saarloos was just on the cusp of turning 7 when that happened in 1986. "I saw it on ESPN Classic. I always watch when he pitches on ESPN Classic. Even though my wife wants to watch 'The Bachelor' or 'The Bachelorette.' "
For catcher Brad Ausmus, Clemens' other 20-strikeout effort against the Tigers in 1996 was reality. Ausmus was in Detroit then. He was also on the Astros when the Cubs' Kerry Wood, then a rookie, chalked up 20 Ks.
"When Kerry Wood struck out 20 it was an embarrassing 20," Ausmus said. "When Roger struck out 20 he did it so quickly that before you knew it he had 20. When facing Roger at least it was an established power pitcher doing it to you. Kerry Wood was a rookie and we were a veteran team that won over 100 games that year.
"Now Kerry Wood has established himself as a power pitcher. But at the time he was a new face on the scene."
BALLS AND STRIKES
• Saarloos on watching lots of reality TV with his "reality TV junkie" wife, Kristen: " 'The Bachelorette' is getting boring. I like 'The Apprentice,' though. 'You're fired.' That's sweet. [Donald Trump] needs a new haircut, though."
• Lest you think the 'Stros, Pettitte and Clemens are the only show in town this weekend, understand that Kissimmee is also playing host to the 122nd Silver Spurs Rodeo. The rodeo wrapped up with Sunday's 2 p.m. matinee at the spanking-new indoor facility just a soft toss from the pristine Osceola County Stadium. Silver Spurs, therefore, has 101 more seasons of kicking up its spurs than Clemens.
• On the way to Kissimmee the most unique landmark had to be the giant plastic lobster atop the red VW Beetle in front of strip mall occupant Boston Lobster Feast. They don't grow 'em that big in Maine. And if they did, what would you cook them in?
• Sucker we are for ridiculous cars, the Lobster Beetle reminded us of the two times we have been fortunate enough to see the incomparable Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. All of you have had a similar experience know that you just don't forget seeing a motorized 14-foot-long hot dog. One was when it was barreling down I-94 West near the Michigan-Indiana border. The other was when it was parked, inexplicably, in front of a maternity clothing shop in Memphis, Tenn.
• Nice weather and better people down here but there is something disarming about the strip-mall sprawl of Greater Orlando. This is how people give directions down here: "Go straight. Take a right after the fifth 7-Eleven, turn right at the second Applebee's and it's just after the third Blockbuster, you can't miss it."
• The maroon Ford Mustang convertible serving as the Yahoo! Sports Spring Training chariot is fully loaded with Sirius satellite radio. Chris Rock and Steven Wright had us laughing right into the stadium parking lot.
• Just up Route 192 at the Hess Express, two young cowboys who were waiting for Dad to put air in the horse trailer tires treated us to some fancy rope tricks. They were eyeing the Mustang as a prize but couldn't keep up with the screeching tires.
• For all the rotisserie rodeo players in the reading audience, we are able to report that Freemont, Iowa's Davie Dyke won Saturday's bull-riding competition at the Silver Spurs. Dyke, a bull rider since age 12, got a full eight-second ride – not to mention a broken nose – and edged runner-up Bandy Murphy. The bull was unavailable for comment.
• Clemens signed autographs for close to 30 minutes after his workout, wiping his brow several times to dab away the sweat from Florida's postcard-perfect 80-degree day. When one seeker requested Clemens add "five-time Cy Young winner" to the keepsake, Clemens smirked, "I'm up to six now."
• For those who track such things, Clemens and Pettitte emerged from the Astros clubhouse at 10:35 a.m. for their first workout and both carried black bats in their bags.
• Old habits can be hard to break so Clemens was forgiven when he talked about breaking camp and "heading up North." He then paused and said, "Wherever we go."
• Campaign stop Tuesday: Vero Beach, Fla.
• Total miles thus far: 23.6
• Number of Peter Gammons sightings: 1
Free-lance writer David Scott contributed to this report.