Grieving Clemens stifles Marlins

Grieving Clemens stifles Marlins

HOUSTON -- Roger Clemens' Astros teammates weren't surprised that The Rocket wanted to make his start on Wednesday, and they certainly weren't surprised with the outcome of the game.

Clemens, facing the Marlins in what many would argue was a must-win for the Astros, while simultaneously dealing with the devastation of losing his mother earlier in the day, threw 6 1/3 strong innings, allowing one run in Houston's 10-2 rout of Florida.

The Rocket's mind may have been elsewhere, but his right arm was exactly in the right place, and the Astros are now a half-game back in the National League Wild Card race, behind the co-leading Marlins and Phillies.

For this start, Clemens drew inspiration from the same source he turned to throughout his life -- his mother, Bess, who passed away early Wednesday morning from complications related to emphysema. In her final minutes, she did what she always did best -- reminded Roger that the show must go on.

"I told her last night, I needed to go to work," Clemens said. "She told me to go to work."

And 30,911 fans were the beneficiaries of that sound advice as they watched Clemens log his 340th career win, and his 12th of the season.

"That's just Rocket going out there being Rocket," Craig Biggio said. "And just adding to his legendary status."

Clemens struggled in the first frame, and he admitted later that "I was lost as soon as I got on the mound." He walked Luis Castillo to start the game, and gave up a hit to Jeff Conine that pushed Castillo to third. Miguel Cabrera grounded out to third, plating the Marlins' first run.

Clemens got himself together soon after, thanks in large part to a raucous crowd.

"I knew I had to gather it up, and [the fans] helped me do that," Clemens said.

After a rough first inning, Clemens essentially coasted until the seventh. He yielded two hits and a walk over four innings, and remained in the game until the seventh, after giving up back-to-back hits to Damion Easley and Juan Pierre.

After a brief meeting with manager Phil Garner, Clemens walked off the mound to a thunderous ovation, with Elton John's "Rocket Man" blaring over the loudspeaker.

"I can't imagine what Rocket has gone through the last few days," Garner said. "I knew he was with his mother. I didn't know how serious things were. He showed what a true champion he is today. He is unbelievable."

"It was a nice win, of course," Clemens said. "They're all for her. I get my determination from her. I still need to say a few more goodbyes before I can even close my mind on her."

As for whether or not he was going to even make this start, Clemens said there was never a question.

"I appreciate what my teammates said to me tonight, and I told them there was no way I was going to run out on them after what they've done for me over the last few years," Clemens said.

Lost in the emotion of this was the fact that the Astros actually scored some runs, something they don't usually do when Clemens pitches. But the game didn't turn into a laugher until after The Rocket's departure. He pitched with a lead, but a small one -- 3-1.

That's because Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett, like Clemens, had only one bad inning. Fortunately for the Astros, they were able to do more damage during their small window of opportunity. In the second frame, Adam Everett loaded the bases with a single to left, and Brad Ausmus and Clemens followed with walks, plating two runs.

Biggio's base hit to left drove in Everett for the third run.

That was plenty for Clemens to work with, considering he's been on the mound for eight of the 16 times the Astros have been shut out this year.

"I don't think we go out there and go about it based on who's on the mound," said Mike Lamb, who was 3-for-5 as the No. 3 hitter. "We know it was a tough day for him. For him to even be out here was incredible. I would have been a blithering idiot. There's no way I would have been out there tonight if my mother had passed. It was impressive for him to be out there."

"This win was a special one," Garner said. "Anytime one of the members of our family goes through something like this, it's hard. But part of what we do is play to win, and to win on these kinds of occasions is very special."

Immediately following the last out, the Astros ballpark entertainment crew ran a touching video tribute in memory of Bess Clemens. The Astros had several clips of Mrs. Clemens-Booher from past interviews when the club was preparing to honor Clemens earlier this year for winning his seventh Cy Young in 2004.

"I thought it was the neatest thing they did at the end of the game," Clemens said. "That's the way I want to remember her. I wanted her to hang on so I could thank her properly at the Hall of Fame, I said that so many times ... I keep playing this silly game, and I love it."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.