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Late launch

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff June 8, 2006 10:34 AM

It’s like some bad horror movie.

Freddy’s dead, but he’s coming back for more. Jason bit the big one, but, funny, Fluffy seems unusually quiet this evening. Better check things out ... Heck, even Steve Guttenberg continues to pop up from time to time.

But this summer, none of them have got anything on Roger Clemens.

No sooner had the future Hall of Famer allowed millions to catch their breath last week by (finally) announcing that he was re-joining the Houston Astros, than the idea percolated: “Hey, let’s not rule out the fact that he could be had in a deadline deal.”

And we all laughed it off. Impossible. Inconceivable. Preposterous.

Then the Astros went and lost 11 of 15 games.

As it stands now, Houston remains 6 1/2 games in back of the Cardinals and surprising Reds, who are tied for first in the NL Central with identical 35-24 records. The Astros, meanwhile, are two games below .500, and were just forced to place stud Roy Oswalt on the disabled list with a back sprain. Andy Pettitte has a 6.03 ERA and has allowed seven earned runs in two of his last three starts.

Why would Clemens want to play there?

This is the question on the minds of some, likely the same ones who couldn’t release the grasp of their beloved blankies either at one point. And Clemens could have put an end to it following his much too-celebrated tuneup with Koby in Kentucky, yet another “I can’t believe they’re actually showing this on ESPN” moment. But instead, he let the question fester. Swell even.

When asked by the Globe’s Nick Cafardo if he would consider a trade to Boston if the Astros fell out of contention, Clemens could have said it wasn’t a possibility. No way. No how. I love Houston. Yee-ha. Even if it were a remote chance, he could have at least ended the ridiculous speculation it could cause, particularly after a winter in which it had already reached inane heights.

But, no.

``It would be way too early for me to comment on something like that,” he said instead. “I have all I can do to get ready and prepare myself for what's ahead. I really haven't thought about that."

A simple “No” would have done, Rog.

OK, so maybe, you argue, this is Clemens’s way of telling his mates to get things in gear or else. Shape up, or I’ll ship out, essentially.

Maybe that’s great motivation for the Astros. Jolly good for them, then. For us, the story threatens to never go away until Clemens throws a pitch in his old Red Sox duds.

Maybe it’s just that we can’t admit to let go that Clemens will never again pitch for the Red Sox before a sellout crowd at Fenway Park, a matter perhaps we should have succumbed to, oh, a decade ago. It was indeed a tantalizing possibility, a possible strong presence in a rotation aching for help right about now. But at $22 million (or $21,021,021 or whatever it was ... imagine if Clemens had JT Snow’s number) it was a serious investment to make in what was, in reality, being looked at as more storybook ending than stupendous addition.

But he’s with the Astros. Can’t we just let that be? Please?

In Houston, Clemens will be adored no matter what. As nostalgic as his return here would have been, if he didn’t perform fans would turn on him instantaneously. No doubt.

There is a certain amount of Clemens backlash throughout the country, most stemming from the fact that even with his superstar status, Clemens essentially held four teams hostage as he worked out financial details of his contract. It’s no secret that steroid whispers have started to come up where the 43-year-old Clemens is concerned.

Jason Grimsley is naming names, you know, a situation that might be more explosive than BALCO, more destructive to the game than Mark McGwire’s terrible memory. Grimsley played with the Yankees from 1999-2000. Clemens, by the way, played with the Yankees from 1999-2003.

Jeff Pearlman, he famous of the John Rocker, 7 train, wrote for Slate last week, “I wonder: Where's the investigative digging? Like Bonds, Clemens is a larger-than-life athletic specimen. Like Bonds, Clemens is producing at an age when most of his peers are knitting. Unlike Bonds, Clemens does not have journalists breathing down his neck. Instead, the hometown Houston Chronicle has covered his recent re-signing with the Astros as a time for unmitigated celebration. Forget combing through his garbage for vials -- I just want the Chronicle to ask Clemens whether he's used. Is the Rocket cheating? Again, I don't know. But doesn't someone have to at least try and find out?”

Pearlman asks, “Is it unfair to pester individual athletes about steroids? Maybe. Is it the right thing to do journalistically? Without a doubt.”

To be honest, we may be reaching the stage where that’s a completely accurate statement, particularly after the events of the past couple days in Arizona.

When all is said and done, that may become baseball’s true horror show, with this Clemens nonsense nothing but an annoying gnat in comparison.

by eric wilbur

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