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Tom Verducci
February 23, 2004
Returning to their Houston roots, inseparable pals Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte want to share the fun of pitching the Astros to a title
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February 23, 2004

The Home Team

Returning to their Houston roots, inseparable pals Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte want to share the fun of pitching the Astros to a title

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Clemens, more alpha wolf than lone wolf, always preferred company in his manic training. He befriended pitchers Bruce Hurst and Al Nipper in Boston and Pat Hentgen and Roy Halladay in Toronto. But the connection with Pettitte, a fellow Houstonian who attended the same junior college ( San Jacinto in Texas) and had the same agents, went deeper.

Clemens would help remake Pettitte's body and his pitching style. Once a crafty, slightly lumpy lefthander who relied on cutting and running the ball, Pettitte grew into a powerhouse of a pitcher with hair on his four-seam fastball, blowing it by hitters at the letters when he wanted. "He's 6'5", 235," Clemens says. "Nobody should be surprised. He is a power pitcher. He took the program and ran with it."

Says Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, "Andy became more streamlined. He was always a terrific pitcher. But if there was a small percentage of Andy's ability that wasn't being maximized, Roger found it and got the most out of it."

The Yankees won four American League pennants and two world championships in the five years Clemens and Pettitte were teammates in New York. They combined to win 159 regular-season games—more than any other pair of teammates over that span (chart below)—and started more than half of the team's postseason games in that span (36 of 66), going 16-8.

In Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, Pettitte had a chance to close out the Arizona Diamondbacks, but they scored six earned runs on seven hits and knocked him out in the third inning. They hacked as assuredly as if they knew what was coming—and it turned out they did. Pettitte unknowingly tipped his pitches from the stretch position. Every time he was going to throw a fastball, he kept his hands close to his chest as he dropped them into the set position at the belt. Every time he was going to throw a breaking ball, he made a loop with his hands, away from his body, as he came to the set. He learned about his colossal gaffe the next day, before the Yankees lost Game 7 in the bottom of the ninth, a game in which Clemens gave up one run and struck out 10 in 6? innings.

"I was told about it," Pettitte says. "That was the worst feeling—like somebody had just robbed me. I had just been the [League Championship Series] MVP, and I couldn't have been feeling any better. [In Game 6] my stuff felt so good. For a long time I refused to believe they had my pitches.

"Roger helped me deal with it He showed me how he does it, how to come set with your hands higher, up near your chest. I've done it that way ever since."

Last year Pettitte leaned on Clemens for support throughout his 21-win season. In May, for instance, during a four-game skid, Pettitte confided in Clemens that his elbow was tender and that he wasn't certain he should continue pitching, especially since the Yankees had not extended his contract in spring training and he stood to be a free agent after the season. He worried about blowing out his elbow. Clemens told him he should continue pitching, unless he was in severe pain. Pettitte did, and the elbow improved.

It was around that same time that Pettitte, with the help of Deborah Tymon, the team's vice president of marketing, organized an effort by the players to give Clemens a retirement gift and to celebrate his 300th victory. When righthander Mike Mussina mentioned that the Baltimore Orioles had given Cal Ripken Jr. a Harley-Davidson motorcycle as a retirement present, Pettitte decided on giving Clemens a Hummer H2 in the burnt orange of his beloved Texas Longhorns. Pettitte kicked in the most money. "It bums me up when people keep writing the Yankees gave the Hummer to Roger," Alan Hendricks says. "It was Andy's idea."

In September, Laura and the kids returned to Houston for the start of school. Ever the big brother, Clemens looked after Pettitte. The two pitchers played pool at a bar near Clemens's Upper East Side apartment. Clemens took Pettitte to St. Patrick's Cathedral and explained who was entombed there. Pettitte even crashed at Clemens's place for a few nights during the postseason. This was a New York that Pettitte didn't know. Having made his in-season home in suburban Westchester County, he had ventured into Manhattan maybe once or twice a year, only for team functions or to take Laura to a Broadway show. "We'd park in the same garage each time and have a restaurant picked out nearby," she says.

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