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Yankees have their game-changer

Well, that changes everything.

Doesn't it?

Roger Clemens is coming to the New York Yankees and bringing the pennant.

As the man himself said from the owner's box at The Stadium, "How you doing, Yankee fans?"

Better, we're guessing.

Because had the Yankees held tight, hoped it was forever April for Alex Rodriguez, duct-taped their starting rotation together, pretended it was time for Chase Wright and Phil Hughes, and figured the Boston Red Sox would just stop winning, well, we'd have seen better organizational strategies.

As it is, they'll have only another few weeks of that and then the real season begins, the Yankees having spotted the Red Sox eight or 10 wins, but with a summer of baseball out there.

Assuming everyone's hamstrings hold up between now and then, the Yankees' rotation in a month will be Clemens, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and some other guy. Actually, that wouldn't be a bad place for Hughes, once his hamstring heals, because, like with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and a few others, Clemens, even at 44, makes the pitchers around him better, just by standing there.

Of course, if this doesn't work, we can all say goodbye to Joe Torre and Brian Cashman. George Steinbrenner might be getting a bit sloppy, but he's coherent enough to can everybody in sight if he was to throw another $4.5 million a month at this thing and still finish second to the Red Sox. Even if it was his idea.

In the meantime, all was well in the Bronx on a perfect Sunday afternoon. The home team was way ahead, the starting pitcher hadn't put any infielders in danger, and the Red Sox hadn't yet clinched the AL East when the thick-necked guy grabbed the microphone.

"Well, they came and got me out of Texas," Clemens said, presumably meaning Yankees management and about $24 million of Steinbrenner's money. "I can tell you it's a privilege to be back. I'll be talking to y'all soon."

On the outfield scoreboard, a glowing, "Roger Clemens is now a Yankee."

Meaning, not a Boston Red Sock. Not a Houston Astro. If he's going to save a season, it will be theirs. If he's going to bury someone, it won't be them. And now everybody can forget about Carl Pavano again.

"Let's face it," Clemens told reporters in New York, "these guys know how to win."

The prevailing opinion was they would, too, if they could keep their pitchers on the mound. As it was, Yankees starters had the 27th-worst ERA in baseball and had thrown less innings than every team but the Seattle Mariners, who had played three fewer games, when Clemens agreed to re-re-re-return from retirement.

"Derek [Jeter] was on me once a week," Clemens said, "especially when things weren't working out. I see the problems with the pitching staff, too. The injuries were incredible."

Clemens' vibe alone was enough to beat the Mariners by a combined 13-1 the past two days, first Wang taking a perfect game into the eighth inning Saturday and then Darrell Rasner pitching into the sixth in an eventual shutout Sunday.

Suddenly, the Yankees have had four well-pitched games out of five. The stinker belonged to Kei Igawa, the guy who personified the distance between the Red Sox and Yankees over the first five weeks because he wasn't Daisuke Matsuzaka.

So, give Clemens some time to bring his arm and legs around and give him three minor-league starts, and that puts him on the mound right around June 1. The Yankees open a three-game series on June 1 in … oh, Boston.

A Yankees insider said Sunday afternoon negotiations with Clemens became somewhat serious a week to 10 days ago, and his signing became inevitable two days ago. Randy Hendricks, Clemens' agent, notified Astros general manager Tim Purpura of the outcome somewhere around the fourth inning. And now they have exactly what they needed, a front-end stud who also happens to have 348 career wins.

He was 7-6 last season and the Astros were just 45-44 with him on the roster, but the Yankees aren't the Astros. The Yankees score runs. Clemens allowed four runs or less in all six of his losses and allowed more than two earned runs in only three of 19 starts.

Since that fall evening in South Florida, when Clemens tipped his cap during Game 4 of the 2003 World Series and said farewell and probably meant it, he is 42-20, including four postseason wins. He's pitched in another World Series. He's won a seventh Cy Young Award.

He's still Clemens, and the game is always a little more interesting with Clemens around.

He still changes everything.