View Full Version : Team USA: The Rocket has still got it (3/10)

03-11-2006, 01:16 AM
It's all about Clemens. Not one word about Jr's stellar game.

Ooops, my bad; there was a mention. I bolded it.

March 10, 2006
By Jerry Crasnick / ESPN.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- So you play on a team with a bunch of Lexus-driving, Italian-suit wearing millionaires, and you've just pounded a bunch of high schoolers and washed-out minor leaguers by a score of 17-0 before a sellout crowd and a national TV audience.

What's next: a gold medal in the lint-flicking Olympics?

Under typical circumstances, the Team USA players would have regarded their blowout win over South Africa on Friday with more sheepishness than satisfaction. But consider the alternative: After losing to Canada earlier in the week, the Americans spent a day on the verge of being eliminated from the World Baseball Classic just as it was beginning.

"I'm telling you, it was horrible waiting around," said Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee. "I didn't want to go home. I told my agent, 'If we lose, I'm moving out of the country.' "

As the Americans prepare to face Japan in the opener of Round 2 on Sunday in Anaheim, certain truths are self-evident. For starters, the USA players here really care about representing their country well and putting on a good show. But while the Dominicans, Venezuelans and other WBC competitors are looking sharp in the aftermath of winter ball, many of the American players are in typical spring training mode.

Arm strength is evolving. Bat speed is a work in progress. And the body just isn't ready to do what the mind and the instincts tell it to do.

"These guys are nowhere close to where they're going to be by midseason," South Africa pitching coach Lee Smith said of the Americans. "I watched [Alex Rodriguez] run, and he looked like me running the bases. I thought, 'Damn, he's hurting, man, but he's going out there.' That showed me something."

Friday's game promised to be the mother of all mismatches. The South African squad, made up almost entirely of amateurs, represents everything that's heartwarming and wholesome about baseball on the international stage. Baseball doesn't compare with cricket or soccer in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and the South Africans have grown accustomed to the role of scrappy underdogs. Manager Rick Magnante prepped his club for the big tilt with Team USA by showing the inspirational hockey movie "Miracle" in the clubhouse.

"You can be in awe," Magnante said, "and to a degree our guys probably were. They haven't seen as talented a team as this in their lives, and they probably never will again."

The running joke was that the South Africans had to be prepped on proper baseball etiquette before facing Team USA. They were warned about dawdling as they stepped in the batter's box against USA starter Roger Clemens, and told to refrain from autograph hunting at the park.

Every Clemens appearance is thoroughly scrutinized these days, given the persistent doubts about his post-WBC agenda. Nobody knows for sure if the Rocket will pitch in the majors in 2006, and if so, where he'll sign and when he'll decide. Just to add to the suspense, Clemens paid a visit to the Texas Rangers camp in Surprise, Ariz., on Thursday.

The South Africa game did prove one thing: The Rocket is still adept at pitching with a lead.

South Africa's outfielders play so deep, they could have walked to Mesa. And the American lineup spent the better part of two hours either dumping balls in front of them or hitting it where no one could reach it.

In the first inning, Lee hit a wind-driven homer and Team USA took a 4-0 lead. In the second inning, Ken Griffey Jr. hit a monster homer and the Americans extended their advantage to 10-0. Griffey finished with seven RBI on the day.

Fast-forward through the gory details, and Team USA did enough hacking off four South Africa pitchers to force the five-inning, 15-run mercy rule to go into effect.

Clemens pitched with admirable precision against the inexperienced South Africa lineup. He spotted his fastball, mixed in some crisp splitters, and exhibited superb control. He struck out six batters, didn't walk a man and churned through 4 1/3 innings in a mere 58 pitches.

South Africa's only hit was a single up the middle by Nick Dempsey, a 6-6, 260-pound first baseman who advanced to high Class A ball with the Indians organization before injuries sent him home to Johannesburg. He's now working toward an economics degree and coaching baseball in an attempt to help promote the game in his homeland.

Before Friday's game, Dempsey's most memorable hit was a homer against Korea in the Olympics. The shame of it is, no one bothered to retrieve the baseball from his single against Clemens.

"I was a bit shy to ask for it," Dempsey said. "And I just wanted to make sure I touched first base."

The best and most insightful Clemens testimonials these days come from former teammates who remember him as a 25-year-old pup with the Red Sox. Smith, baseball's career saves leader, played with Clemens in Boston in the late 1980s, and he still regards Clemens and Cal Ripken Jr. as the hardest-working teammates he ever had.

It's the same old thing with Rocket. Hitting the corners. Punching guys out. Being hard on himself when he misses by a little bit. You'll see the guy make a perfect pitch and he's like, 'Man, I want to make a better pitch.' He's never satisfied.

South African pitching coach Lee Smith
Watching from the South Africa dugout, Smith took note how Clemens still slaps his glove in agitation on the mound when things don't work out according to the master plan.

"It's the same old thing with Rocket," Smith said. "Hitting the corners. Punching guys out. Being hard on himself when he misses by a little bit. You'll see the guy make a perfect pitch and he's like, 'Man, I want to make a better pitch.' He's never satisfied."

Former Red Sox starter Bruce Hurst, now pitching coach for the Chinese National team, was in the stands at Scottsdale Stadium and marveled at how Clemens maintains his competitive drive at age 43.

"You looked at Roger then and you knew he was special," Hurst said. "But it's hard to imagine a [341-game winner] with more than 4,500 strikeouts. You're probably looking at one of the two or three greatest pitchers in the history of the game."

When Clemens walked off the mound after his 4 1/3 innings, the crowd of 11,975 stood and cheered, and the Rocket removed his cap and waved it in acknowledgement.

In light of the competition, the performance doesn't exactly rank at the top of the Clemens career highlight reel. The good news is, the Rocket has some baseball in front of him. He's not the only one who's grateful for that.


03-11-2006, 01:26 AM
An ESPN guy say something nice about JR? please ;)

03-11-2006, 01:37 AM
This one's better.

March 10, 2006
United States 17, South Africa 0
By BOB BAUM, AP Sports Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- There was no classic embarrassment for the United States on Friday. Just the blowout everyone expected.

A pair of the squad's senior citizens -- Ken Griffey Jr. and Roger Clemens -- led the way in a 17-0 rout of South Africa that advanced the Americans to the second round of the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

Griffey went 4-for-4 with two home runs and seven RBIs in a game shortened to five innings because of the tournament's mercy rule.

Clemens allowed one hit in 4 1-3 innings, striking out six and walking none before leaving to a standing ovation from the capacity crowd of 11,975 at Scottsdale Stadium, spring training home to the San Francisco Giants. He threw 58 pitches, seven shy of the limit allowed in the first round.

"I was pitching 100 percent, at this time of year regardless," the 43-year-old right-hander said. "You know, it was my job after the guys came out and put the numbers on the board -- threw strikes, not walk anybody, get them back in and swinging the bat a little bit."

The United States opens the second round against Japan on Sunday in Anaheim, Calif., and Mexico plays South Korea in the second game there.

Coming off a stunning 8-6 loss to Canada on Wednesday night, the United States had to win Friday to make it to the second round of the inaugural 16-team event. That became a non-issue in a hurry against the overmatched South Africans, who finished 0-3.

"We were like, `OK, if we can get out to an early lead, put some pressure on and let Roger relax and have some fun,"' Griffey said.

Derrek Lee drove in four runs with a home run and double. The homer, aided by a brisk wind blowing to right field, was Lee's second of the tournament. The United States outhit South Africa 18-2.

"If we can swing the bat and be particular about what pitches to swing at, and be patient and stuff like that, I think we can put some pressure on some people," Griffey said. "You look at the numbers these guys put over through the course of the year, there's no easy out in there. That makes it tough on everybody."

The U.S. squad finished in a three-way tie with Mexico and Canada at 2-1, with Mexico finishing first and the Americans second based on the tiebreaker, which is runs allowed in games involving the three tied teams.

The Americans essentially took batting practice against right-hander Carl Michaels, who pitched for South Africa in the 2000 Olympics and 2005 World Cup.

Derek Jeter and Griffey singled in the first, then scored when Alex Rodriguez's hit got past right fielder Ian Butcher for a triple. Lee's three-run homer made it 4-0.

In the six-run second, Griffey hit a three-run homer to right and Lee doubled in two more.

Barry Armitage, a right-hander who pitched for Double-A Wichita last season, didn't fare any better when he relieved Michaels, allowing six runs in the third, including another three-run home run to Griffey.

Not everything was awful for South Africa. Seventeen-year-old Jared Elario threw a scoreless inning against the Americans

"I was kind of nervous when I woke up this morning," he said. "I knew we were going to play the world's best. This is like a dream come true to me."


03-11-2006, 11:31 AM
Love him or hate him, Roger Clemens is the biggest story in MLB this spring. He could change the fortunes of any number of teams by deciding to sign with them, or he could decide to ride off into the sunset and start biding his time until his HOF induction ceremony.