NEW YORK - The significance of the moment didn't hit Roger Clemens until his closer walked into the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and stuffed a souvenir into his right hand. That's when it dawned on him. Another milestone in a career blazing toward Cooperstown had been reached.
Clemens recorded his 250th victory yesterday at the expense of the Orioles, who managed only four hits off him in seven innings and lost to New York, 3-1, before a sellout crowd.
It wasn't until the fifth inning, with two outs, that the Orioles found their second hit. Rich Amaral doubled, and Delino DeShields did the same to break up the shutout. Clemens struck out Mike Bordick, and retired seven of the last eight batters before turning the game over to a bullpen that's been clutch all year.
That hasn't always been the case with Clemens this season. He hadn't won consecutive decisions until yesterday, raising his record to3-2 and allowing the Yankees to extend their winning streak to six games.
"All in all, I'm pleased that I kept the game as close as it was," said Clemens. "I figured runs would be few after the third or fourth inning. I was able to keep them in check. I was able to get ahead and my location was good."
"He was terrific today," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He had a good fastball and command of pretty much everything else. This is the kind of stuff he's been out there with just about every time, and if he continues to go out with this kind of stuff, he's going to give us a chance to win.
"He just has to work it out in his own mind. He's done this long enough and he knows what works for him. I think it's just a matter of putting in the practice and knowing that his approach works. He let one get away from him a couple starts ago with the stuff he had. But he didn't let that happen last time or this time."
Clemens still had good velocity in his final inning, but admitted that he began to tire. He still retired the side in order, striking out Amaral on his99th pitch.
"That was enough," Torre said. "We had a couple left-handers coming up and I just decided that was it as opposed to sending him out and maybe getting in a little trouble and winding up with the middle of the lineup. It worked out for us."
Clemens estimated he was missing by eight or 10 inches on a few pitches, an indication that it was time to leave. A veteran recognizes the signs. A smart one heeds them.
"That's something you have to be real cautious of, especially in a one-run game, that you don't run a ball into somebody's bat. They have very capable hitters, especially in this ballpark. I was just trying to keep the momentum on our side," he said.
Clemens had fallen into the habit of shying away from his fastball, but he went to it more often yesterday. Rarely was he disappointed.
"It's huge that you don't forget that you have that thing, even though they know it's coming," Torre said. "I think a lot of pitchers get into that situation where they don't want to throw a hitter a particular pitch because they're looking for it.
"But his fastball is different. They can look for it, but he has so much movement and he has pretty good command of it that he doesn't give them many good ones to hit. He can tie you up with that."
Afterward, Clemens was greeted by Rivera, who had remembered to pass along the ball for the Texan to add to his collection.
"I had forgotten about that [No.250]. For good reason, it's not on your mind when you're out there working," said Clemens, who walked two and struck out five.
Clemens became only the 39th pitcher to reach 250 wins. The next one will tie Bob Gibson for 38th place on the all-time list. And somewhere on the horizon sits No.300.
"Knowing Roger and what he's accomplished, having not every pitching record but a good number of them, I'm sure that's the next plum for him," Torre said.
"That seems a long way off," said Clemens, 37. "It's another milestone to shoot for, I guess, if you're a pitcher. I'll be working as hard as I can to get there.
"If it happens, it does. Right now, you don't worry about it. You just go out and do your job and they'll accumulate."