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Clemens: Rocket's engine still runs strong

ST. LOUIS -- He was rummaging through a new box of hats, taking them out one by one and stretching them out on his right foot until you could hear a tearing sound. Roger Clemens sat at his locker stretching hats, having changed into his No. 22 Astros jersey, but still wearing gray dress pants.

He had a photo shoot scheduled for a national publication, and a Houston radio show wanted him to do a call-in. But Clemens, the scheduled starter for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series in Houston Saturday, was just engaging in a little Boston talk on the eve of Game 1. He never has forgotten where he came from.

''Here I am still pitching," Clemens said. ''Debbie and I were looking forward to the day where we could just go up to my old neighborhood [Framingham] and just hang out with some of our friends up there. Maybe go to a few games at Fenway. Same in New York. Just grab five or six of your close friends up there and go out to eat and see a ballgame.

''But here I am, still pitching. This is still exciting for me. We have a good team and this guy over here" -- he points to Andy Pettitte's locker -- ''has had an unbelievable year. It's been so much fun just being a part of this and hanging with Andy. We both came home to pitch and we got pretty far last year when Andy was injured, and hopefully we can make this a great series."

Not that the six-time Cy Young Award winner needs any more accolades, but in the longest postseason game in baseball history -- Sunday's 18-inning win that eliminated the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series -- Clemens was the winning pitcher, hurling three scoreless innings in relief before rookie Chris Burke ended it with a solo home run.

''It was one of the greatest games I've ever been involved in," Clemens said. ''Two teams going at each other like that inning for inning. You thought back to '86 and Game 6 and 2001 with the Yankees. But this was like a heavyweight fight."

How long could he have gone?

''I would just have kept pitching," Clemens said. ''What else are you going to do? You're in that situation. Nobody's left to bring in, so it's me. I would have kept going and given it everything I had. This is playoff time. You can't say you are tired. You're not going to hold anything back."

Pettite, who starts tonight against another old chum of Clemens, Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, had been sent home by manager Phil Garner Sunday to rest up in case he needed to go in Game 5 in Atlanta. Pettitte said he phoned the Astros clubhouse a few times after the ninth inning and eventually was asked to come to the park just in case.

Clemens can't recall a game that stirred so much emotion from fans around the country.

''I know back home my family's been talking about it for a couple of days now," he said. ''We've been getting calls from people from all over just wanting to talk about that game. It was pretty special. Happy to be a part of it and happy we came up on the winning end."

Clemens said he doesn't feel that tired, and he'll have five days of rest for his start.

The Rocket has been around long enough that he is idolized by other pitchers. Carpenter, for instance, grew up watching Clemens as a kid in Raymond, N.H., then got to pitch with him in Toronto. Carpenter was one of the best pitchers in the National League this year, going 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA.

''All Carp needed was to stay healthy," Clemens said. ''He always had great ability. I'm happy to see he put it all together and had a great year. I know he went through a lot last year, just like Andy did. It's going to be fun watching these two guys go at each other."

Clemens said he was hoping to hook up with former Red Sox Scott Cooper and Al Nipper, who live in the St. Louis suburbs. Nipper is Boston's minor league pitching coordinator and was a running mate of Clemens in his years in Boston.

Clemens also has stayed in touch with Bruce Hurst and was intrigued to learn that Dennis ''Oil Can" Boyd pitched for the Brockton Rox this summer at age 45.

''That's great," Clemens said. ''Oil Can is doing what he loves. It's great to hear he's still pitching."

He also was happy for Wade Boggs, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, and called it nonsense that he and Boggs didn't get along.

''Wade and I were teammates for a long while," said Clemens. ''I respected what he did in a baseball uniform. I was probably closer to other players on the team, but he deserved the honor. He was a great player."

No conversation with Clemens can end without the subject of retirement being brought up.

''Haven't even thought about it, and I won't think about it," Clemens said. ''There's a long way to go here. That's what I'm thinking about. This and following the boys. Two of them are playing football right now and Koby [an Astros catching prospect] has started his offseason workout program.

''There's a lot going on. That won't be crossing my mind for a while."

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