06/14/2003 1:01 AM ET
Cards won't hang heads after loss
Team takes pride in performance on historic night
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By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- The priority, as the Cardinals saw it, was not to prevent or delay a historic moment at Yankee Stadium. If there were a way that Roger Clemens could notch career win No. 300 while simultaneously the Redbirds could gain a game on the Cubs and Astros, you can bet that St. Louis players would have gone for it.
There was no such option. And a fired-up Clemens was dealing from the start. He struck out six of the first eight batters he faced, including Edgar Renteria for career punchout No. 4,000. And by 10:13 p.m. ET, "The Rocket" had also tallied his 300th win -- a milestone reached 20 other times in the history of baseball.
"Not too many guys are ever gonna hit 300," said Woody Williams, an occasional training partner of Clemens'. "You may be able to count them all on one hand from here on out."
So maybe, perhaps, one day, some of the 25 men wearing the "Birds on the Bat" on Friday night will look back and say, "I was there." But for now, there is little solace. A loss is a loss, and a chance to move into a first-place tie went by the boards.
"I'm not so selfish to think that it wasn't a special night for Roger and for baseball," said Scott Rolen, who doubled and singled off Clemens. "There's a lot more to it. It's not all about us. There were other guys on the field, and they deserved to win.
"I don't think there's any shame in saying we were there, and we were part of it and we played as hard as we could the whole game. We tried to beat his (behind), and he threw a good game, and he won."
It's entirely appropriate a Yankee was the one to achieve this feat against the Cardinals, because the two teams have a great deal in common. Before the game, Tino Martinez -- once a Yankee, now a Cardinal -- pointed to an absolute hatred of losing as one of the defining points of the four world championship teams he played on in the Bronx.
That quality is undeniably shared by the current Cards. This is the same team that, after falling in last year's National League Championship Series, felt no consolation in all it had overcome just to get that far. A loss is a loss. And a loss is never good.
"Sure I appreciate it," said manager Tony La Russa. "Three hundred wins? A guy has a career like that? I have no problem tipping my cap to not just tonight but his whole career. He's been great.
"We played as good as we could and he beat us."
And that, if anything, is the consolation. There is little else the Cards could have done. Jason Simontacchi pitched admirably, keeping the game close until the seventh inning. St. Louis hitters took good at-bats and made Clemens work. He threw his 100th pitch in the fifth inning.
But sometimes, a great player simply plays a great game, and it's too much to overcome. The pride comes in having put up a fine effort.
"I think what gets lost in this is the job Simontacchi did," Williams said. "With this kind of atmosphere, this kind of setting -- fans, the whole aura of the deal, he did an outstanding job. And for him to come out on the short end of the stick is kind of disappointing.
"I told him I thought he did an outstanding job. Not having much experience pitching in those circumstances, I thought he did a fine job."
It was a big night for Simontacchi, who grew up idolizing Clemens. He had been looking forward to this night since he found out he would get the ball.
"It makes me feel a lot better," he said of plaudits from Williams and La Russa. "No doubt about it. I felt that I was battling out there. And obviously the outcome wasn't what I wanted, but...
"I don't know," he said quietly. "(It stinks) right now. I don't know. It's a little depressing."
That, in a few words, was the atmosphere throughout the visitors clubhouse at Yankee Stadium after the game. A little depressing. It was quiet -- not beaten, but tired and quiet.
"I think guys here are impressed with what Roger's done in his career," said Joe Girardi, who spent four years with the Yankees. "We understand how hard it is to do what he did. It's one of those things, it's just amazing to think of a guy who's pitched for 20 years and averaged 15 wins. You just don't see that. To be able to see it as a player, you have a great appreciation for what he does."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.