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ON BASEBALL

It was a bit of a wild ride for the usually in-control Clement

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Rene Lachemann, who in 40 years in the game rarely has missed a chance to crack wise, laughed when he heard that Red Sox third base coach Dale Sveum, who holds the job Lachemann had with the Sox in the mid-1980s, was the subject of a lengthy profile in last Sunday's Globe Magazine.

''Hardest job in sports? When I was there, they used to call me 'windmill' and that guy [Mike]Barnicle wrote that if I was an air traffic controller, the harbor would be full of fuselage," Lachemann said. ''Maybe that's why they didn't invite me back for the ring ceremony. Instead, they had guys like [Jim] Corsi there."

Lachemann, one of the game's great needlers, retains a soft spot for Corsi, the former Sox reliever whom Lachemann managed in Florida, after being with him in Oakland, where he served on Tony La Russa's staff for five years before returning this season to join Ken Macha as bench coach.

Lachemann had nothing but good things to say about another player he got to know when he was a coach with the Cubs, Matt Clement, who last night tried but couldn't run his record to 5-0 for the Sox.

''We called him Abraham Lincoln," Lachemann said, an allusion to Clement's angular features and Van Dyke beard.

''He sent me a bunch of steaks for Christmas one year. He sent 'em to all the coaches. You don't run into too many players who do things like that. He's just a really good man."

Clement, who spent the last three seasons in Chicago (Lachemann was there in 2002), never wanted to leave the Cubs. But the transition here has gone smoother than he had reason to hope, given that he was being asked, along with David Wells, to compensate for the departure of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

The Sox have won six of his last seven starts, the blip being the 11-8 beating the Orioles inflicted on the Sox in Fenway Park April 26, when he gave up 12 hits and 7 runs in just 4 2/3 innings. After a stressful debut, when he faced the Yankees in New York and confided to friends that his arm was still fatigued in his next start (like the Yankee game, a 4-3 defeat), Clement has settled in nicely. Given the absence of Curt Schilling and Wells, the Sox could have ill afforded otherwise.

Clement struggled some last night, allowing five earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and walking four. He departed in favor of Matt Mantei after allowing two two-out singles in the sixth, and Mantei gave up singles to the first two batters he faced, putting Clement on the hook if the Sox lost. But Boston's four-run eighth, aided by two Oakland errors, took him off that hook.

Clement has given credit to Jason Varitek for his strong start, saying that working with the Sox catcher has worked out even better than Clement had imagined it would. And for a player on his fourth team, it had to help that Clement, twice traded with just days left in spring training, was able to pick his current employer.

''I'll tell you one thing," Lachemann said. ''When he was with us, he threw one of the best sliders in the game, right there next to [John] Smoltz. Righthanded hitters didn't have a chance against him. He also threw that sinker that bore in on righthanded hitters, which is why he hit a lot of hitters.

''It looks to me now like he's throwing more cutters. But when he had command problems with us, which was one of his biggest issues, he'd go to the slider. He's a good pitcher, a guy who they brought up real quick when he was first in San Diego.

''You couldn't steal on him, either. He was a good fielder, too. But a hitter? Forget about it."

Clement faced the A's in Boston six days earlier, and in one of his cleanest starts, limited the them to five hits and a run, while walking just one and striking out four. But Lachemann figures if he had a chance to sit down with Clement, they wouldn't be talking pitching.

''He loved to talk about basketball," he said. ''He was a terrific basketball player. He didn't play much baseball in high school.

Clement had a chance to play college hoops after starring at Butler (Pa.) High School, but turned down several scholarship offers to sign with the Padres.

''I loved hoops," Clement told the Globe this spring. ''I played hoops 11 months a year. I played baseball secondarily to hoops.

''I give a lot of credit to my basketball coach [Mark Jula]. There's a couple times I thought about quitting, and without basketball I wouldn't be here. When I got drafted that year my legs were in such great shape. I threw hard, and that's where I got my power from. He had the Bobby Knight philosophy, we're going to be conditioned to death [for] when the fourth quarter comes around.

''At the time, you hate it, you cussed, you were mad at him behind his back, but I realized how big of a reason that is for why I am here today. It helped me get drafted, get to the minors, but it helped create a work ethic in me where my conscience kicks in if I'm not doing enough behind the scenes."

Wouldn't surprise anyone, least of all Lachemann, if Mark Jula has gotten his share of Christmas presents from Clement.


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