May 7, 2007

"The Rocket's Pin-Striped Glare"

Yankees fans around the globe are high-fiving each other and shouting "YES!" But, they aren't talking about the Yankee’s television network. They are all celebrating the return of Roger Clemens to the Bronx, and not a moment too soon. Though he most likely won't start again until the end of May, his presence both on the field and in the clubhouse, and all throughout the American League means one thing: the Yankees are contenders...again.

Forget the fact that they opened the bank vault for Clemens and made special concessions for him that they don't do for anyone else (he's free to go home between starts), the Yankees needed to do this, and it was the only move to make. If they lured The Rocket back to Yankee Stadium in the off season with his special condition of returning home between starts, one could raise an eyebrow, or complain about the Yankee’s payroll. But, this deal deserves special consideration. This team is currently 5 1/2 games behind Boston, and that gap could widen to an insurmountable gulf, even this early in the season. In spite of the terrific pitching the Yankees have received from the starters of late (we can erase Kei Igawa's last start from memory with the help of psycho-therapy) this team has a lot of catching up to do.

Bringing in Roger at this point in time was the equivalent of pulling the emergency brake on a runaway train. Who knows who else is going to pull a hamstring? Can the Yankees still rely on guys like Darrell Rasner, who pitched extremely well in his start against the Mariners on Sunday, shutting them down for 5 2/3 innings? Who else out there is a bit sweaty about Matt DeSalvo’s scheduled Monday night start against the Mariners?

There's no argument that plenty of hope was springing from the pitcher's mound both at Arlington and at Yankee Stadium this week. Young Phil Hughes pulled a hamstring while throwing a no-hitter Tuesday night, and Chien-Ming Wang pitched a perfect game into the eighth inning. Both had terrific stuff and made Yankee fans very happy. But, there was still an under-current of doom in the Bronx. There was nothing to anchor the good feelings left over from both of those games and give the team and fans alike something to build on. There was no one, not even the mighty A-Rod or the captain, Derek Jeter, who loomed large enough over Boston's lead in the AL East to make the Yankee's ride to the World Series believable or possible. Only the seven time Cy Young Award winner and no-doubt, walk in Hall of famer himself carries such credentials.

Roger can demand, without explanation, excellence from everyone on the starting rotation. He can motivate the relievers to the point where they might not actually blow every lead the offense hands them. Roger can show the fans that there is still hope in this young season and that this team is hungry, tough, and made of championship caliber stuff.

It may be up to three weeks before Roger Clemens puts on pin stripes again, but with one stroke of the pen, one Major League signing, the Yankees and Roger have put this team, and this baseball town back on the right track for a World Series victory.