Yankees Fumble Away Clemens’ Bid for No. 300

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Times Staff Writer

A record crowd of 44,095 squeezed into Comerica Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, filling every seat and jamming the standing-room-only concourses above the outfield bleachers, all in hopes of witnessing Roger Clemens make history with his 300th victory.

Seventeen innings later, after the New York Yankees outlasted the Detroit Tigers, 10-9, in a grueling 5-hour 10-minute marathon that featured 14 pitchers, a seventh-inning stretch and a 14th-inning stretch, Clemens’ bid seemed like ancient history.

Staked to a 7-1, fifth-inning lead against baseball’s most feeble collection of hitters, Clemens and the Yankee defense imploded in a five-run, three-error fifth, and the bullpen collapsed in a two-run seventh, leaving Clemens with a no-decision in his second attempt to become the 21st player in major league history, and first since Nolan Ryan in 1990, to reach 300 wins.


Next Rocket stop: Chicago’s Wrigley Field, where Clemens will oppose his protege, the Cubs’ Kerry Wood, Saturday in a nationally televised interleague game that will pit the only two pitchers who have struck out 20 batters in a nine-inning game.

“The pressure is going to build -- it’s tough to say it’s just another ballgame when you have so much more media here,” Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. “It’s just one thing you have to get through and get it over with, so we can move on and try to concentrate on winning a division.”

That pressure doesn’t seem to bother Clemens, who had 40 to 50 relatives and friends at Sunday’s game and expects another big entourage in Wrigley. Asked if the pursuit of 300 victories is beginning to wear on him, he said not at all.

“I don’t get a chance to see my family together on the road much, so this is good,” said Clemens, who gave up six runs -- four earned -- and seven hits in six innings. “They’re seeing some different parks, having a good time. I’m not worried about [the pressure]. That has nothing to do with how I approach it or how excited I get about it.”

The same couldn’t be said about his teammates. Left fielder Juan Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter and second baseman Alfonso Soriano each made errors during the fifth, when Detroit trimmed a 7-1 lead to 7-6. Soriano had another error in the third.

After Todd Zeile’s homer gave the Yankees an 8-6 lead in the sixth, Yankee left-hander Sterling Hitchcock gave up singles to Ramon Santiago and Dmitri Young in the seventh, and right-hander Antonio Osuna, a former Dodger, gave up an RBI single to Carlos Pena, walked a batter and gave up a score-tying sacrifice fly to Shane Halter.


“Sure, there’s disappointment, no question,” Torre said. “That’s probably what added to our problems in the fifth. You start trying to do it for Roger, and everyone gets a little anxious ... you start to jab at the ball instead of letting the game come to you. That’s the only way I can describe it.

“Hitchcock comes in, and he never throws a ball above the waist. Today, he didn’t throw a ball under the waist.”

Soriano and catcher Jorge Posada each homered off knuckleballer Steve Sparks, the former Angel, in the top of the 17th, and David Wells pitched 5 2/3 innings of three-hit, one-run relief to push the Yankees past the Tigers, but the victory was bittersweet.

“We were hoping this was Roger’s day,” Wells said. “He had a 7-1 lead, you figure the rest of the day is icing on the cake, and then some weird things start happening.”

Added Jeter: “It’s a letdown. Obviously, you want to win for him, and I feel bad that we blew a 7-1 lead.... Maybe we were pressing a little bit. He’s going to get it eventually. You try to put that in the back of your mind, but you can’t help thinking about it.”

Clemens entered with a 24-10 record against Detroit and a reputation for toying with players of lesser caliber, but it was the .196-hitting Halter who hit a two-out, RBI single in the second, and .156-hitting Brandon Inge who singled to spark the fifth-inning rally, which included a two-run homer by No. 9 batter Gene Kingsale.


After giving up five runs in the fifth, Clemens struck out Halter with his 31st pitch of the inning, with runners on second and third, for the third out.

“I felt like I threw 2 1/2 innings in the fifth,” Clemens said. “Some of the relievers were upset, and they apologized, but they shouldn’t have even been in the game. If I didn’t have to extend myself so much in the fifth, I could have gone seven or eight innings.”