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Rocket's reentry set for Houston

Boston can't make Clemens splash

TORONTO -- The Red Sox' pitching rotation is no better now than it was early yesterday morning when Roger Clemens agreed to a prorated $22 million, one-year deal to rejoin the Houston Astros, but if there's a consolation prize for the Sox, it's that the months of putting their best foot forward at least got Clemens to forget how he left Boston on less-than-ideal terms.

``That was certainly part of what we were trying to accomplish," said Sox owner John Henry.

Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and CEO Larry Lucchino seemed disappointed last night when they showed up at Rogers Centre for the finale of the Sox' three-game series against the Blue Jays. Werner said, ``I thought we had him," while Henry said, ``It would have been great to land him. We certainly tried."

Lucchino also thought the Red Sox were close to reacquiring the big righthander.

``Although we are disappointed that Roger Clemens will not be joining the Red Sox, we are glad that we went through the process and reconnected as an organization with Roger," the Sox said in a statement. ``We wish him the best of luck with Houston and in the National League. When Roger's career does come to an end, we will welcome him to Fenway and we will forever consider him to be a legendary and beloved member of the Red Sox."

The Sox' brass felt they were in the hunt for Clemens in the final hours before his decision. Offers were made that were competitive with Houston's deal. When told what Clemens had signed for, however, Henry said, ``Wow!"

In the end, it came down to Boston and Houston, as was reported here last week.

General manager Theo Epstein did all the negotiating on behalf of the Sox, but ownership was kept informed. The Sox' brass indicated they were active in recruiting Clemens in the final hours. In the end, Henry came away with one impression: ``What a class act he is."

To hear Clemens's longtime agent, Randy Hendricks, tell it, ``[The Red Sox] were in the mix until the end. They made the most sense in terms of best team. We have expressed our appreciation to them. Roger has been deeply touched by all that the Red Sox management did.

``I thanked them on his behalf. Their statement means a lot to all of us in Houston, and the feelings are reciprocated. He may not be playing for Boston, but we appreciate their display of affection, as well as the many fans that wrote to us. As you know, Roger did great things in a Red Sox uniform and I am very pleased that the focus has returned to that. On the variables that went into the equation for the decision, Boston ranked first on the basis of best club."

Niceties aside, the Sox lost out on the biggest pitching prize available. Now, all they can hope for is a trade if the Astros fall out of the race. ``I thought our organization handled it really well, from what I know," manager Terry Francona said. ``Maybe we made his decision harder. I hope so. I didn't talk to him much about it. When I did I was really impressed . . . he knows he was wanted. I wanted him to know that. I didn't want to give him the 20 questions. He knew what he was doing. I'm sure it was pretty difficult. I bet he was torn sometimes. Maybe he wasn't, but I thought he handled himself pretty well."

Clemens had friends in Boston, such as Sox pitching coach Al Nipper and first base coach Bill Haselman, tugging at him.

``A piece of my heart is in each of those cities that I've played [in]. I think all four teams are going to be in the middle of things in September," Clemens said of the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, and Rangers, who all sought his services. ``I've got deep roots in Boston because of the tradition up there. With Boston, even though I haven't played with a lot of the guys, I know them very well. They've got a great ball club and they're playing very well. They're poised to make a great run."

In the end, Clemens just wanted to stay home and pitch. All that was left to do after that was figure out his schedule, come up with a minor league component to his contract, and then the major league payout, the largest prorated figure ever paid to a pitcher. The deal, for a prorated $22,000,022 (Clemens wears uniform No. 22), will pay him about $12.8 million. He will be paid on a $322,000 minor league contract until he is ready to join the big club, which is expected to be near the end of this month. These are all numbers the Sox were willing to pay, according to a team source. One league source even said one of the teams in the Clemens chase tried to deal for Koby Clemens (a Single A player in the Astros' organization) in an attempt to entice Roger Clemens.

As Astros manager Phil Garner put it, Clemens will have his ``freedom clause," being allowed to pretty much come and go as he pleases, something the Sox were also willing to go along with, according to the team source. Clemens learned that from Tom Seaver when the Sox traded for Seaver in 1986. Seaver was allowed to go home to Connecticut on days he didn't pitch and would show up the day before he pitched on the road, and take off after he pitched.

Only time will tell whether the Astros were the right choice. They are 7 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central and very much a factor in the wild-card race. Clemens might not be enough to save the day, and he acknowledged yesterday that there ``were scenarios where the teams were in a better position," but he felt he ``went to battle with these guys last year and we were in the World Series."

To battle he goes again, hoping the Astros will be buoyed by his return. How could they not be? If Boston was the ``best team" Clemens considered, according to Hendricks, where did the Astros fit?

``Last time I checked we were in the World Series," Clemens said. ``It's the same team, if not better. I know I have my work cut out for me. I have to do it step by step. I push my body hard but I still need some competitive innings. I call them stressful innings because at my age [43], they're stressful.

``I don't think I would have taken on this challenge if I didn't constantly hear from my teammates. Talking to me, they encouraged me that they think I can do it. That's the deal. I'm going to get after it."

At the World Baseball Classic in March, Clemens said he learned a lot about himself, that he could do it again. He pitched well for the United States in a 2-1 loss to Mexico in the final game before the semifinals. At the time, he said he needed a few weeks to decide what he wanted to do. He had to figure out whether he wanted to go through the grind again. In the meantime, he helped Koby get through rehab after dislocating his left pinkie.

It was Koby's injury that in part drove Clemens to start working out for a return. He often pitched to the Astros' minor leaguers and threw batting practice to his younger sons' high school team. After two weeks of intense training at his home, Clemens knew he wanted to come back.

His first tuneup start will be June 6 in Lexington, Ky., which is where Koby plays. On June 11, Roger Clemens is scheduled to move up to Double A Corpus Christi, and on June 16 to Triple A Round Rock. The plan is for Clemens to return to a major league mound June 22 at home against the Minnesota Twins.

``Here we go again," said Clemens, who has a career record of 341-172 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,502 strikeouts. ``I'm going to give it a shot. I don't necessarily know that I need to or that I want to, but I'm committed."

A LOOK BACK For a photo retrospective of Roger Clemens's 13 seasons in Boston, go to www.boston.com/redsox

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