NEW YORK -- This is why Roger Clemens wanted to trade in his maple leaf for pinstripes. Why he embraced the chance to join the New York Yankees last winter after earning two more Cy Young Awards in Toronto. Why he took the money and ran to the Bronx.
It was for this opportunity. To return to the World Series and take one more stab at winning a championship that has eluded him throughout a career missing little else.
Thirteen years have passed since Clemens stood on the October stage. He will stare into the lights tonight as the Yankees' Game 4 starter, hoping the Atlanta Braves blink before he does as he tries to complete the sweep.
Yankees fans were more inclined to cover their eyes during Clemens' last start, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. Returning to Fenway Park, he lasted only two innings in a 13-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox. The heavyweight matchup between Clemens and Pedro Martinez was no contest.
"I think Pedro was unfair with the year he had. The psyche worked on everybody," said manager Joe Torre.
"I think [tonight] will be a special day for Roger. Coming to Yankee Stadium, in that uniform, there will be a lot of emotion, but there won't be a lot of baggage. I think that will help him focus a little better."
"I don't think there's anything less stressful," Clemens said, contradicting Torre, "because I'm putting a lot of heat on myself, anyway.
"My emotions don't change when I take the mound just because of a certain game. The intensity's always there and the effort's always there. Whether the outcome is poor or not is a different story."
At least he'll be in a different venue -- in his home ballpark. Clemens won Game 3 of the Division Series in Texas before being spanked in front of a capacity crowd in Boston that wouldn't cut him any slack.
"Being in this environment makes it exciting," he said. "It rekindles everything, gives you a lot of life and energy again to let you know why you do the things you do."
This will be Clemens' first Series start since 1986 against the New York Mets, when he left Game 6 after seven innings with a lead the bullpen couldn't hold.
His departure remains a source of controversy today. Did he ask to be removed, as Red Sox manager John McNamara insisted, or was the decision out of his hands?
Does it even matter anymore?
"That was years ago," Clemens said. "This is here and now and it's a whole different situation. That's the furthest thing from my mind."
Clemens would rather live in the present, anyway. Last night's win put him in position to clinch the Series. For someone who often wondered if he'd ever venture this far into the postseason again, it's a moment worth savoring.
"It's special," he said. "Around here it's almost a way of life. They expect to be in this situation. It's what everybody talked about all the way back to spring training. So to finally be here, to see it happening in front of you, it's just really exciting."
Torre said he sensed that Clemens, who went 14-10 with a 4.60 ERA, began to relax toward the end of the season.
"I think he realized that when we traded for him, we didn't expect that he was going to win the Cy Young Award. It would have been great if he had that type of year, but we felt he was a good fit for our ballclub," Torre said.
"Every time I put his name on that lineup card, I expect a good outing."
Braves manager Bobby Cox hopes it's not too good. His Braves haven't gotten many breaks in this series. Now they get a five-time Cy Young winner getting the Game 4 assignment.
"He's not your ordinary pitcher, that's for sure," Cox said. "He's a little older and all that, but he still throws great. If his control's on, you're going to be in for a tough night."
It's one that could end on the kind of note Clemens has longed to hear.
Should the Yankees clinch, will it also mark the end of a career that will carry Clemens to the steps of the Hall of Fame?
"I haven't thought about it," he said. "We'll just see what happens."