10/21/2004 8:03 AM ET
Rocket ready to fire in Game 7
Astros thrilled to have ace on hill in NLCS finale
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
|Roger Clemens watches Game 6 of the NLCS from the dugout on Wednesday. (Al Behrman/AP)
ST. LOUIS -- Roger Clemens headed out of the visitor's clubhouse at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night as a man in a hurry. Houston's six-time Cy Young Award winner had no time for interviews after St. Louis defeated Houston, 6-4, on Wednesday night to force Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
Clemens will start the biggest game in franchise history against Jeff Suppan of the Cardinals.
"Just gotta win," was all Clemens said as he waved off reporters and headed to the exit.
Clemens generally does not do interviews the day before he pitches during the regular season. Considering the magnitude of Thursday's game, with a National League pennant and a World Series berth at stake, it was not surprising that Clemens decided to stick to his usual policy. Clemens is an intense competitor who likes to block out potential distractions and stay focused on what he will try to accomplish during the game.
Clemens' teammates, on the other hand, had plenty to say about the right-hander starting the decisive game.
"That makes me feel pretty good, because he's been in these situations a lot," Houston center fielder Carlos Beltran said. "He can deal with the pressure, he'll be fine.
"We've been in tough situations before. We were in a tough one in Atlanta [in the NLDS] on the road. Now we have a tough one on the road here. If we play well and some things go our way, we can win."
The Astros have to guard against not leaning too heavily on the 42-year-old ace. As talented as Clemens is, the Cardinals have one of the toughest lineups in baseball and Busch Stadium, with a sellout crowd, is not an easy venue for a visiting pitcher to compete.
"Sure we're comfortable that he's going to be on the mound, but he's not Superman," third baseman Mike Lamb said. "We can't expect him to throw a no-hitter. The offense has to do its part."
Clemens will be pitching on his usual four days' rest after beating Suppan and the Cardinals in Game 3 at Minute Maid Park. In that game, Clemens went seven innings and allowed two runs on four hits while throwing 116 pitches.
Houston pitching coach Jim Hickey indicated all systems are go for The Rocket.
"I think he's ready," Hickey said. "It's great to have him available to pitch a game like this."
Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell agreed.
|With seven innings in Game 3, Roger Clemens moved into a fifth-place tie on the all-time LCS innings list:||Pitcher
|John Smoltz||95 1/3|
|Greg Maddux||85 1/3|
|Dave Stewart||75 1/3|
|Catfish Hunter||69 1/3|
|Roger Clemens||69 1/3|
|Orel Hershiser||65 1/3|
|Stewart's 75 1/3 innings lead the ALCS. Smoltz's 95 1/3 innings lead the NLCS.|
"It is a great thing, nice to have him available for that final game," Bagwell said. "We've been down this road before. We've been backed into a corner before, and we've always found a way to bounce back."
The Astros are trying to become the second consecutive NL Wild Card team to advance to the World Series, after the Marlins, who defeated the Cubs in the NLCS before downing the Yankees in the Fall Classic last year. The Astros, who began play in 1962, have never been to the World Series.
But first, they must get past the Cardinals.
"That team won 105 games this year. We knew it wasn't going to be just a matter of coming in here and walking away with it easily," Lamb said. "We don't quit, and neither do they. This team hasn't quit all year. The experts say we have no chance, but I don't believe that. With Roger, I think we've got a good chance if we play like we're capable of playing."
First pitch is scheduled for 7:19 p.m. CT.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.