Rocket doesn't budge

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

The Stud Hoss has landed.

Houston no longer has a problem.

Well, it no long has a problem with its starting rotation.

Roger Clemens is back with the Houston Astros, signing a one-year deal yesterday, as expected.

Clemens put up 100s of zeroes on the scoreboard in 2005, but the problem was Astros hitters put up almost as many. In Clemens' 32 starts in 2005, the Astros were shut out nine times. Five times he lost 1-0, including three games that went extra innings. He went 13-8 with a 1.87 earned run average -- good enough to lead the majors -- at the age of 42.

The Astros went into last night's game in St. Louis with a .256 team batting average, fourth-worst in the National League.

The Texas Rangers, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox openly had courted Clemens, who pitched this spring for Team USA and manager Buck Martinez in the World Baseball Classic and said he would return.

The Astros gave Clemens a one-year deal worth $22,000,022 US to match his uniform number. Since he's not playing a full season, his salary is prorated. If his first start is June 22 against Minnesota, he'll earn $12.25 million this season.

"I'm not surprised," Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin said. "I gave him my sales pitch in Arizona during the WBC. I knew what he wanted."

Timlin knew that Clemens wanted to pitch for a team that can score some runs, a team that could contend and pitch in a park where he's comfortable.

"Our team can score some runs, we're going to be in the race, or at least we think we're going to be in the race and he's always pitched well at Fenway Park."

A fellow Texan -- Timlin is from Midland, Clemens is from Houston -- delivered his best sales pitch and then got a direct response.

"I said 'I'm from Texas, I understand, now what are you going to do?' " Timlin recalled before last night's game. "Roger looked at me and laughed. Right then, I knew he was going to stay with the Astros."

Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein made Clemens an offer of $21,000,021 US to match his uniform number with Boston.

"I couldn't help myself, so I told Theo: 'Too bad Roger doesn't wear No. 27,' " Randal Hendricks, Clemens' agent, said from Spring, Tex. The next thing Hendricks heard was a big laugh from Epstein. "Boston was terrific to deal with."

"I stayed out of all that," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Me talking about bringing in free agents sends the wrong messages to the guys we got here. I know our GM worked his butt off trying to get the deal done.

"We've got Matt Clement here and he's scuffling a little. Why not spend our time working on him now?"

Going back to 2005, Clement is 1-2 in his previous four starts with a 9.78 ERA (21 runs in 19 1/3 innings), allowing 38 base-runners (27 hits, including four homers and 11 walks).

Clemens, entering his 23rd big-league season, signed a minor league deal paying $322,000 over the five-month minor-league season.

The Astros had something that the other suitors did not: Koby Clemens currently rehabbing at class-A Lexington after breaking his left baby finger on a slide.

"The deciding factor was the home town, players he has played with the Astros, Koby being in the organization and the fact that the Astros need him," Hendricks said. "Plus, the Astros have been great to him and his family."

The Rocket's first start is likely to be at Lexington, Ky. on June 6 and Koby will be activated by then. Could we see the two of them with the Astros in September? Probably, like Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty.

The Astros are 27-27 after losing in 11 innings to the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday afternoon. They are 7 1/2 games behind the Cardinals, who lead the National League Central. Houston also was four games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the wild-card race before the Dodgers' game against the Atlanta Braves last night.

Barring any injuries during his comeback -- although he looked in mid-season form during the World Baseball Classic -- Astros manager Phil Garner will be able to add Clemens to a rotation which consists of Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Taylor Buchholz, Fernando Nieve and the redoubtable Wandy Rodriguez.


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