06/13/2003 10:08 PM ET
Clemens hits milestones vs. Cards
"Rocket" registers 300th win, 4000th K
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
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NEW YORK -- The Cardinals had simple aims Friday night. They were just trying to win a ballgame, keep an overextended pitching staff relatively intact and keep pace with the first-place Cubs and Astros -- all of it much too soon after a 4 a.m. arrival from Boston the night before. Roger Clemens had a much larger agenda, and finally after three tries nothing could stand in his way.
In the first regular-season matchup between two of baseball's most storied franchies, Clemens registered the historic -- and unprecedented -- double of his 300th career win and 4,000th strikeout on the same night as the Yankees topped the Cardinals, 5-2, in front of 55,214 at Yankee Stadium.
"The Rocket" became the second pitcher to record win No. 300 against the Redbirds, joining Steve Carlton, who accomplished the feat in 1983. It was Clemens' fourth attempt at the magic 300 milestone, and he became the 21st member of the exclusive 300 club. He is only the third pitcher in the game's history to tally 4,000 Ks.
"It's a loss in the season," said Tino Martinez, who made his first return to Yankee Stadium since he played for the Bronx Bombers, "but I think it was a great experience for everybody that played in that atmosphere. It was a great atmosphere the whole game. The intensity level was high. It was fun -- great for our team.
"But we lost the game. And you're happy for Roger Clemens, but it's still a loss in the season."
What was a mismatch from a historical perspective -- Clemens and his six Cy Young Awards versus Jason Simontacchi and his 15 career big-league wins -- started out as a mismatch on the field as well. Clemens came out blazing, while Simontacchi came out struggling. From the start it looked like it could be a very long night for the Redbirds. But thanks to a patient, dogged approach, St. Louis was able to scratch out two runs against Clemens and chase him after 6 2/3 innings and 120 pitches. Meanwhile, Simontacchi kept the game close through six before fading in the seventh.
The second-year right-hander took the loss, falling to 4-4, but he earned the respect of plenty of the veterans in the St. Louis clubhouse with the way he handled himself under pressure.
"I told Jason, he pitched such a strong game that I just feel so upset that he's the losing pitcher," said manager Tony La Russa. "He really pitched well. But we played as good as we could and they beat us -- both Clemens and the Yankees. They're the winners."
Clemens has been known at times to get too hyped up for big games, to overpitch and to make mistakes. That wasn't the case against an imposing St. Louis lineup. The first three Cardinals to face Clemens all struck out, and each went down swinging. Even Albert Pujols, one of the hardest power hitters to strike out in baseball, had little chance against the big right-hander in the first.
So when Jorge Posada's double off the wall in left scored Derek Jeter in the bottom of the first, it was legitimate to wonder if it might be all the support the Rocket needed. But St. Louis struck back in the top of the second when Jim Edmonds homered into the screen over the left field fence, tying the game.
Scott Rolen doubled to follow Edmonds before Clemens wrote his name in the record books for approximately the zillionth time. With no outs and Rolen on second, Clemens battled through a tough at-bat to strike out Edgar Renteria swinging for No. 4000. He went on to whiff Martinez and Mike Matheny to close out the second.
"He's one of the best, you know? He pitched good," said Renteria. "We battled to the seventh, and we did all right. But he kept throwing strikes."
After Clemens quashed any budding momentum the Redbirds might have had, the Yanks quickly gave him another lead. Hideki Matsui crushed a pitch from Simontacchi into the seats in right to lead off the bottom of the second, and it was 2-1. The Cards tied it briefly again in the fourth. Martinez lifted a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Rolen, who had singled. Ruben Sierra golfed a homer on a tough pitch in the bottom of the inning, however, and New York led again, 3-2.
"They're a good hitting team," Simontacchi said. "There's no doubt about that. We all know that. It's just unfortunate. The balls that they hit were all home runs. That's what killed us. Other than that I thought I kept them off the bases pretty well. When they did (get on base), I got some great defensive plays."
The two starters -- as different in style and pedigree as can be -- matched zeroes in the fifth and sixth. Clemens retired the first two batters in the seventh before giving way to Chris Hammond.
But despite putting two runners on against Hammond, the Cards couldn't push across the tying run. J.D. Drew, the first batter to face Hammond, bunted for a base hit, and Albert Pujols singled through the right side. But Edmonds grounded out to second, ending St. Louis' last, best chance.
"The only regret you could have," La Russa said, "is we had two or three chances with men in scoring position, and we had the count in our favor and we took the pitch to hit. And after that he worked us over. We created situations. Hell, we had Jim up there three times with men in scoring position."
Raul Mondesi launched a two-run homer off Simontacchi in the bottom of the seventh, putting the game out of reach. Antonio Osuna pitched a perfect eighth and Mariano Rivera closed it out for his eighth save.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.