Clemens has game face on

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:44 PM ET

When Roger Clemens pounded the table Monday in Moosic, Pa. the reverberations could be felt at Roger Centre.

"I saw the TV clip," said Johnny Damon last night. "I liked it. Roger looks ready."

And the New York Yankees need his help after dropping their fifth straight by a 3-2 decision, on two unearned runs.

Clemens was asked after his triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees outing of "the negative things he's heard nationally, how nice is it to get the reaction in Tampa, Trenton and here?"

The Future Hall of Famer reacted as if someone had hit a line drive through the box.

"If you want to be negative, be negative," Clemens said. "I'm not. I'm not a negative, so you be as negative as you want. If I stink out there, and don't pitch well, I know. I don't need you to tell me that. I have pride in what I do. I'm going to pour my heart out and put it right there for you to see it when I perform."

With that Clemens slammed his right paw on the table at his post-game press conference and bolted. Clemens would not have been the first major leaguer to misunderstand a question and won't be the last.

As a Clemens watcher since the 1980s our guess is that his angst came from not being at the Rogers Centre -- one of his favorite mounds -- and facing the Jays, rather than taking on the Toledo Mud Hens.

In his triple-A outing, he pitched six scoreless, striking out six.

He had hoped to make only two minor-league starts and pitch here Monday. After a so-so start at double-A Trenton -- Clemens allowed three runs, six hits and four walks in 51/3 innings -- the Yanks slowed things down.

"I know Roger always pitches well here," said Damon. "In his 18-strikeout game against Kansas City in 1998, he got me three times and almost a fourth."

In his back-to-back Cy- Young-award-winning seasons with the Jays, 1997-98, he went a combined 22-8 with a 2.15 earned run average at home.

Clemens won't start this weekend in Boston. Manager Joe Torre said he'd stick with Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte.

So, Clemens will face the Chicago White Sox Monday in Chicago.

We don't doubt for a second that Clemens can still pitch, or that the Yanks need help. They've gone through 11 starters in their first 49 games.

But can he hit?

The Yanks were supposed to be an offensive juggernaut which could match the Boston Red Sox swing for swing, tape measure shot for tape measure shot.

Instead they are hitting .270, seventh in the AL.

"I haven't talked to Roger," said manager Joe Torre before the game. "I know he's ready, I want to talk to him. He'll start our first day in Chicago. He won't start in Boston.

"Roger can pitch for us, but he can't do the hitting aspect for us. Eventually we're going to turn this around. I keep saying tonight is the night."

Last night was not the night. The Yanks are 21-29 -- tied for last in the AL East with the Tampa BayDevil Rays -- but 81/2 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the wild-card race with more than four months remaining.

"Roger's presence adds to this club, it needs something," said Yankee broadcaster Ken Singleton. "He's not going to pitch nine-inning shutouts every game, but he makes them better."

At the time Clemens signed Yanks starters were averaging a little over three innings an outing. Clemens made 19 starts a year ago with the Houston Astros, working 1131/3 innings, which is less than six innings a start.

With the DH in the AL he'll have the opportunity to be around longer, but he'll also face tougher lineups.

"Roger is a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Singleton said. "Roger wouldn't be coming back if he didn't think he could get people out. If he thought different, he'd be golfing."


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