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ON BASEBALL

Rocket mission is a scrub

It appears Boston fans will not get to see Roger Clemens pitch in a Red Sox uniform again.
It appears Boston fans will not get to see Roger Clemens pitch in a Red Sox uniform again. (Globe File Photo)

TORONTO -- The No. 21 jersey was pressed and ready.

Keith Foulke's locker, the one at the end of the Red Sox clubhouse, nearest Terry Francona's office, was earmarked for him as well. There was a nice little home in Boston that had Roger Clemens's name on it.

The Red Sox went all out for Clemens: the videos, the personal contact, the story line.

Even at the end, they were making their best offers, putting their best foot forward. But when reports surfaced yesterday that Clemens was re-signing with the Houston Astros, a high-ranking Sox official was resigned to it. What a disappointment.

``At least he's not going to the Yankees," said Francona, when informed of the Newsday report that Clemens had agreed to a one-year deal that would pay him about $3.5 million a month.

The Sox manager could have used Clemens, considering the shape his pitching staff is in.

David Wells is headed back to the disabled list today to make room for David Pauley, who is coming up from Portland to start tonight.

There's also the Matt Clement situation. He and pitching coach Al Nipper were watching video and working on ways to correct the funk the righthander has been in, but that may not be enough.

Last night, Josh Beckett gave up four home runs in the first five innings, two each to Vernon Wells and Troy Glaus.

This was not an easy decision for Clemens; don't buy any report that says it was in the bag for Houston all along. Clemens was tortured by the decision for weeks. Boston really tugged at him.

``He loved the story," said one of his close friends on the Astros. ``Ending where he started. Wearing a Sox cap to the Hall of Fame. All of those things were great. The one thing that came out of all this was Roger repairing his relationship with the Red Sox. He truly would have gone back there."

Clemens was in a no-win situation if it came to choosing between Boston and New York, and some of his close friends have speculated he didn't want to hurt the feelings of fans in either city.

Imagine if Clemens had chosen the Yankees over the Red Sox. Think Johnny Damon got booed badly at Fenway Park? It would have been unbearable for the Rocket.

Rangers owner Tom Hicks disclosed to MLB.com that he was told as of Friday that his team was out of the picture. The Rangers appeared to be a long shot anyway, though they had a few things working for them, including the fact that Hicks and Clemens are both alumni of the University of Texas and that Clemens's wife is from the Dallas area.

In the end, this was probably not about the money, because the Rangers would have paid anything. Ditto the Yankees. We're not sure how far the Red Sox would have gone. If it indeed came down to Boston and Houston, then it was a decision of the heart. There's no way Houston could have outbid the Red Sox.

For as much as Clemens wanted to come back to Boston, once Houston offered him the pro-rated version of his $18 million contract, it was a sign to him the Astros wanted him back. At that point, he had to decide whether to turn his back on his hometown, and on an organization that employs his son Koby.

Even yesterday, the Astros were denying the report -- first GM Tim Purpura and then owner Drayton McLane -- but the Sox were assuming Houston had landed him.

``You can't beat proximity," said Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi.

Clemens spent the last 2 1/2 weeks working out at his home in suburban Houston, undergoing a grueling regimen that would tell him whether he could make it back. After the second week, he knew he could.

Agent Randy Hendricks called the teams late last week to tell them Clemens was indeed going to pitch in 2006, and the teams began to get their final bids in. As of last night, Hendricks was still sticking to his story that nothing was done.

``He has not signed a contract with the Astros," was all Hendricks would offer in an e-mail. He would not comment on whether any team was told it was out of the mix.

There was disappointment in the faces of Red Sox personnel when they heard the reports.

First base coach Bill Haselman caught Clemens's 20-strikeout game Sept. 18, 1996 at Detroit, and he spent a lot of time with Clemens on Opening Day this season, when the Sox played in Texas.

``I'll tell you, he always loved his catchers," Haselman said. ``I've never been around a guy who just did it right. The way he treated people. The way he made you feel special. After that 20-strikeout game, he brought me to every press conference with him. Like I had something to do with it. He was as perfect that night as I'll ever see a pitcher. Imagine what he would have meant to some of the guys in this clubhouse."

Clemens did his best to keep his decision to himself. In the past couple of weeks, as he went through his workouts, he didn't want anyone trying to sway him.

It was a decision he and his family had to reach together. And that's the way they kept it. The Clemens children have grown up Astros fans, so where do you think they wanted Dad to go?

While Hendricks still was trying to keep the door ajar last night, it seemed clear all hopes of seeing Clemens in a Red Sox uniform again were dashed, and with them the chance to write the most intriguing final chapter of one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived.

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