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Don't let the door ...

Clemens played his part -- and then left without saying a word

Updated: Wednesday July 14, 2004 1:43AM
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Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens allowed six runs -- three earned -- in a 35-pitch first inning that was mostly forgettable.

HOUSTON -- Over the past few days here -- really, over the past few months -- the unofficial Mayor of Houston has pumped more hands, smiled for more pictures, answered more questions about more stupid topics and made more charitable appearances than any mere baseball player ever should have to make.

Then early Tuesday night, at the grand baseball ball Roger Clemens was throwing in his sizzling hometown -- he lives a mere 15 minutes from Minute Maid Park -- the host with the most went one step further. He gave away the All-Star Game.

Sometimes, even for legends, things just don't work out the way they're planned.

"It's been tough for him here, pitching at home," said Mets catcher Mike Piazza, and you know if Piazza was sounding sympathetic -- these two guys are hardly chums -- Clemens had to have had a horrible night. "But he threw well."

Well, no. He didn't. Clemens did not pitch well. In fact, Clemens pitched like doo doo. Bartolo Colon makes better pitches. Bad Bible salesmen make better pitches. Heck, Clemens barely got his foot in the door before the American League slammed it shut.

Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki started things by lacing the Mayor's third pitch to right field for a ground rule double. Detroit's Pudge Rodriguez blasted Clemens' sixth pitch to nearly the same spot, off the wall, for a triple. A batter later, after Clemens shook off some of Piazza's signs for what seemed like an eternity, Boston's Manny Ramirez lasered a home run to left and you knew -- right then and there, you knew -- that this was not going to be one of those feel-good baseball stories about the hometown boy making good. This was going to be one of those stories that make you close your eyes and cringe and hope the end comes soon.

Unfortunately for Clemens, it didn't. Not soon enough. An error by the second baseman -- Clemens' Houston teammate, Jeff Kent -- and a big-hop single over the first baseman's head followed. Then Texas second baseman Alfonso Soriano cranked a Clemens pitch 343 feet to left center for a three-run homer. The AL won, 9-4. Clemens took the loss, tagged with five hits, six runs (three of them earned) in his one-inning, 35-pitch nightmare.

And now the NL, for those of you keeping score, hasn't won an All-Star Game since 1996.

"It was a tough week for him," Clemens' former manager, the Yankees' Joe Torre, said, "and he certainly wanted to shine for everyone."

Clemens took his role as unofficial Mayor to heart, almost as soon as he came out of a brief retirement to sign with the Astros last winter. He returned from a road trip early Sunday just to get a jump on everything. He was a co-spokesman for the John Hancock fan festival and held a clinic for kids Sunday, along with another Texas son, Nolan Ryan. He was at a downtown hotel early Monday for a news conference where he was named the starter. He was there for the press later Monday ("What about throwing to Mike Piazza?" we asked), and over there for some baseball commercials, and there doing business with his charity, the Roger Clemens Foundation, and way over there to introduce country singing star Clay Walker on Monday night at the Home Run Derby.

He's supposed to do even more of that work after he retires as part of a personal services contract he signed with the Astros.

"There's more than just playing this game ... for me," Clemens said the day before the game. "They have kept me busy. I was teasing [Astros owner] Drayton [McLane], the personal services contract, I hope [this] counts for two of the six or seven years or whatever it is. I feel like I'm doing a little of both."

As it turned out, Clemens did too much of one and not enough of the other. And when Major League Baseball officials ushered him out onto the field between innings of the Game to present him with another one of those gag-me, made-for-TV lifetime achievement awards, you could tell that the tight-lipped Clemens was none too happy about it.

Clemens has been in nine All-Star games and this one, supposedly his last, turned out to be his worst. He's never allowed six runs in the first inning of any game -- regular season, postseason or All-Star. In fact, he had never been on a losing All-Star team until Tuesday night.

So when the doors to the NL clubhouse opened after the game, it probably shouldn't have been surprising that Clemens was nowhere to be cornered. The unofficial Mayor of Houston, evidently, had resigned.

The party was over. Clemens work was done. And, you know, it's probably all for the best. Clemens makes a better pitcher than politician.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.