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Waiting for TakeOff

It's not too often that you read about a team needing a 43-year-old pitcher to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but Clemens is not a pitcher who comes along that often. At 42, he put together one of his more stunning seasons in his illustrious 22-year career by going 13-8 with a 1.87 ERA, striking out 185 batters and walking just 62 in 211.3 innings. While Chris Carpenter won the Cy Young for the National League, last season (Clemens finished third behind Carpenter and Dontrelle Willis), his 2005 was one of his three or four best seasons over the course of his career (better than his 2004, in which he did win the Cy Young Award). His 1.

008 WHIP was the second-best in his career (bested only in 1986), his 1.87 ERA was the best in his career, and his 44 earned runs allowed was also the best in his career with a minimum of 100 innings pitched. And he was 42.

Clemens tired down the stretch. He labored his way through the playoffs, going 4-3 while helping guide the Astros to the World Series. It was clear that Clemens had worn down, and an injured Clemens posted a 13.

50 ERA in his lone outing as the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox. Had Clemens not been injured and tired, the history books might remember the 2005 season a little differently.

Without Clemens, this season, Houston is winning games by mashing the ball, which is not something that the 'Stros are accustomed to.

They are second in the National League in team average, fourth in home runs, tied for second in runs scored, and second in OPS. This is largely the same team that finished near the bottom in all of those categories in 2005. Though Roy Oswalt continues to prove that he is an ace pitcher, and Brandon Backe has surprised early on, Andy Pettitte has struggled to a 1-2, 6.

35 ERA start. Wandy Rodriguez has started off well, but he is a guy who would come out of the bullpen, ideally. Ezequiel Astacio, the Astros' emergency starter in the 2005 playoffs, has been downright pathetic in his two appearances, this season.

The presence of Clemens allows everyone to shift down a spot in the rotation: Oswalt becomes the #2, Pettitte becomes the #3, Backe becomes a #4, and then the Astros can choose between Rodriguez, Astacio, or Taylor Buchholz for the fifth spot. The rotation goes from being second-best in its own division (behind the Cardinals' deep rotation) to becoming the best rotation in the game, simply by adding Clemens. Assuming that the Cardinals turn it on like they are able to do, assuming the Mets continue to play spectacular baseball while the Braves play their normal brand of solid ball?the Astros without Clemens will have a hard time winning even the Wild Card. The offense just is not good enough, and the pitching just is not deep enough.

The possibility still exists, of course, that Clemens will rejoin the Astros in May. That period exists because the Astros did not offer Clemens arbitration.

There are other teams, though less realistic, in the mix. The Red Sox have spoken to Clemens, but here's to doubting that you will ever see Clemens back in a Red Sox uniform. It is awfully hard to cross a river when you have burned just about every single bridge that leads back to the other side.

The Texas Rangers are also interested and seem more than willing to pay any amount of money required to get Clemens to pitch in Arlington. It is just not evident that Clemens reciprocates those feelings, though pitching for the Rangers would satisfy his requirement of staying close to home. The Yankees have called, as well, but Clemens left the Yankees to return home; it is unlikely that Clemens would leave home to return to the Yankees.

Besides that, Clemens' leaving the Astros for any of those teams would leave a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. Clemens went to Houston to pitch specifically for the Astros. He wanted to be close to his home, close to his family, and able to spend more time away from the game while still competing.

In other words, while he was getting paid the highest salary of his career ($18 million in 2005), Clemens was not doing it for the money. The man has made $121 million over the course of his career in salary alone. If he became the latest Yankee hired gun, it would be a disgusting act to many, many people.

No, the only place where Clemens truly fits is in Houston.

And though there was some tension about the Astros' not waiting on Clemens' decision about retirement and not offering him arbitration, it is apparent that Clemens would return to Houston in May after taking the first month of the season off. It would allow Clemens to continue resting, the entire month of April, essentially adding a month onto his stamina and effectiveness in 2006, assuming that he is healed completely (and after a 1-1, 2.08 ERA, 0.81 WHIP in two starts during March's World Baseball Classic, it is safe to assume that he is the same old Rocket). For Houston, the equation is simple: Clemens equals another trip deep into the playoffs, while no Clemens might mean no playoffs at all for 2005's National League Champions.

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www.wagerweb.com. .

By: Roxy

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