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SI Flashback: Rocket Science

Ignited by his twin passions for family and fitness, the Yankees' ageless Roger Clemens has lifted off to an 18-1 record -- and toward a sixth Cy Young award

Posted: Friday December 14, 2007 11:53AM; Updated: Friday December 14, 2007 1:50PM
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SI Flashback: Rocket Science

Tom Verducci

Roger Clemens's last memory of his stepfather, the man he calls "my father," is of the spinning red lights and wail of the siren as the ambulance pulled away. Nine-year-old Roger watched through a basement window while standing on a table he'd hauled atop an old couch. His older sisters, Brenda and Janet, had rushed him to the basement just after their stepfather, Woody Booher, had dropped to the floor of their Vandalia, Texas, home with a heart attack. Roger would never see him alive again.

Thirty years later only a few other memories of Woody remain, like assorted snapshots in an old shoe box. The gallon of Blue Bell ice cream he would bring home every other day after his shift at the tool-and-die company. The sultry evenings when Roger and Woody would curl up together on the floor to watch Bonanza and, during commercial breaks, the way Woody would tickle Roger's face with his five o'clock stubble. The rides Woody gave Roger to Roger's ball games--always an hour early, never trusting Bess and the girls to be done fixin' their hair and such soon enough to get his son there on time. The horse Roger would tie to a tree in the front yard, knowing Woody insisted that the family's five steeds be kept out back, and the subsequent cleanup job that would be imposed on him.

There's not much more. Two fathers by nine--his mother left his biological father, Bill, when Roger was 3 1/2 months old--and then suddenly none. Nine years are nothing. Maybe they're crueler than nothing. They're long enough for a few isolated images to form in the darkroom of the mind. Dots that can't be con-nected. "Ever since I got to the big leagues, I've noticed fathers of players waiting outside the clubhouse for their sons," says Clemens, the New York Yan-kees' ace righthander. "I remember Mo Vaughn's dad in Boston. Andy Pettitte's dad has been around here. I always thought how special that would be."

Today Woody Booher's son is as close to an unbeatable pitcher as there has ever been in baseball. With career victory 278 last Friday, a 3-1 conquest of the Boston Red Sox in which he scattered seven hits while striking out 10 in seven innings, Clemens became the first man in the 101-year history of the American League to start a season 18-1. (National Leaguers Rube Marquard, Don Newcombe and Elroy Face did so in 1912, '55 and '59, respectively; Face finished the '59 season with that mark and a .947 winning percentage--the major league record.) Through Sunday his 186 strikeouts led the American League, and his 3.48 ERA ranked sixth. Clemens's victory set the tone for New York's suffocating three-game sweep, which was capped by righty Mike Mussina's 1-0 Sunday win, in which a two-strike single by the Red Sox' Carl Everett broke up a perfect game with two outs in the ninth.

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