But at some point, retirement will come up. Could Clemens walk away after the season he just had?
His 1.87 ERA was tops in the Major Leagues and the best by an Astro since Nolan Ryan chalked up a 1.69 mark in a strike-shortened 1981 season. He made at least 20 starts for the 20th consecutive season, and along the way collected his 4,500th career strikeout and 341st regular-season win.
Opponents hit .198 against him, making Clemens the only pitcher in the Majors this season and just the fifth this decade to hold opponents under the Mendoza Line. They hit .133 (1-for-75, 11 RBIs) with runners in scoring position and two outs, and No. 8 hitters batted .135 (1-for-74, one home run) against him.
Those numbers made the game-breaking, three-run home run by Brian McCann with two outs in the second inning even more amazing. Clemens said he knew it was a bad pitch before McCann started his swing.
It's up to the Astros to get Clemens another opportunity.
A look at key statistics through Game 2 of the NLDS.
|ERA||6.35||Clemens' ERA this postseason: 9.00|
|BA||.292||Limited to five hits over final eight innings in Game 2|
|BA w/ RISP||.375 (6-for-16)||Lane with clutch hit in first, but that was it|
|Runs||11||One run won't get it done|
|Craig Biggio||.429 BA, three runs||As leadoff man goes, so go the Astros|
|Willy Taveras||.500 BA||Sets the table for Berkman, Ensberg|
|Astros bullpen||7.20 ERA||Qualls gives up four hits, two runs in Game 2|
Behind the numbers
The way to beat a guy like John Smoltz is to get a guy on base, get him over and get him in. Step 1 was the hardest part on Thursday. Only once in Smoltz's seven innings did the Astros get their leadoff man on base. Lance Berkman singled to start the third, but Smoltz worked around it.
Smoltz intentionally walked Orlando Palmeiro in the first inning to load the bases for the Astros, who had already scored a run. But Smoltz struck out Adam Everett swinging, and Houston never rallied again.
After Brandon Backe got an inning of work in relief of Clemens, his spot in the batting order came around with two outs and no one on in the seventh. Backe is a .246 career hitter in the regular season but Astros manager Phil Garner tabbed pinch-hitter Chris Burke, who owns a career .239 mark. It was a good move on two counts: It spared Backe, a possible Game 4 starter, any chance of injury, and Burke hit a first-pitch double to give the Astros a much-needed spark. Braves third baseman Chipper Jones spoiled things when his diving stop robbed Craig Biggio of an RBI single.
Clemens is winless in five regular-season starts against the Braves in his career, but before Thursday he was 2-0 against them in the postseason. He beat the Braves in Game 1 of last year's NLDS and, as a Yankee, outdueled Smoltz for the win in Game 4 of the 1999 World Series.
"So much for small ball."
-- Garner, on the two straight lopsided decisions
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.