Day Four, the day before he pitches, is a light day. Clemens plays catch in the outfield. He might jog lightly in the outfield if his body is sluggish. He may do light weight work for his shoulders. The hard part comes that night. "I don't sleep sound," he says of the eve of his starts. "I'll take Tylenol PM or something, and it doesn't help. I don't care if it's the seventh game of the World Series or a Sunday game in May—you don't sleep sound if you care about your work, because you have a lot of things going through your mind. I can relax [on Day Three]. That's my night to rest soundly.
"It's like when you're anxious before [pitching] a game in high school. You've got to take the rubber and control the frame. You're going to be the hero or the dog. You can't afford to have a bad performance."
Game day. This is what the sweat equity of the past days has been about. Monday marked Clemens's 584th start in the majors, and it did not give him his 300th win. He has fewer than two dozen starts left. There is no place for nicknames and levity now.
"Roger is a great teammate," Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi says, "but on the mound? He's one badass mother."
In the first inning of Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS, in Seattle, Clemens buzzed a fastball near the whiskers of Alex Rodriguez. And then he did it again. Rodriguez wheeled and yelled at Clemens, "Throw the ball over the f——— plate!"
"I never heard him say anything," Clemens says.
Seattle manager Lou Piniella was furious. Rodriguez's mother later complained that Clemens was trying to hurt her baby.
"Another big misconception," Clemens says, shaking his head. "They don't understand: When you face a hitter and you're trying to get him off the plate, you throw at his hands. Say, like A-Rod. I'm trying to get a ball at his hands."
Clemens typically takes aim at a piece of his catcher: the mitt mostly but sometimes a shoulder or a knee. To get a pitch under the hands of a hitter he must aim toward the empty space between the catcher and the hitter. "So you're visualizing throwing in that open area," Clemens says of the brushback pitch. "And if you let that ball go off the fingertips one or two inches in the wrong spot, it's going to be up and in, heads-up, all that stuff. But I'm not going to miss over [the plate]. Because I've done that before. And with [Greg] Luzinski and [Dave] Kingman and those monsters, that's gone. I learned that when I was 21."
Says Rodriguez, "I knew he was trying to set a tone." Clemens threw a one-hitter that day against Seattle, striking out 15 batters. A few days later he sent Rodriguez's mother one of the gift baskets the Yankees' wives had given the Mariners' wives. "I really wasn't trying to hurt her baby," he says.