HOUSTON -- Now that it's all said and done, the Houston Astros and Roger Clemens can laugh about the jaw-dropping arbitration figure agents Alan and Randy Hendricks dropped on the club Tuesday.

It's not every day that a player asks for a one-year contract worth $22 million -- in fact, it's never happened before. But the Rocket, whose uniform number is 22 and who will be entering his 22nd big league season, seemingly wanted to set a precedent with that figure, or at least his agents did.

So, $22 million it was.

"Twenty-two was his number in more than one way," Randy Hendricks deadpanned. "We had some fun with that. It was fun to file that number and study the response of everybody."

Roger Clemens

It was more fun for the Astros three days later, however, when the two sides came to a happy medium and inked Clemens to a one-year deal that may not have been quite so shocking, but still astronomical enough to set a record: $18 million, the highest salary earned by a pitcher in a single season.

The previous record was held by Pedro Martinez, who earned $17.5 million in 2004, his final year with the Red Sox.

Clemens' contract also includes a provision that will allow for him to miss select road games when he is not scheduled to pitch. This agreement, according to general manager Tim Purpura, is identical to the clause that appeared in his contract in 2004, minus the incentive clause based on home attendance figures.

To the Astros, the Rocket is worth every penny and every excused absence.

"We all can assess the physical tools, what he can do physically," general manager Tim Purpura said. "But it's what's inside a man's heart and his mind that makes a great competitor. Roger's a warrior. He's from that school, a warrior mentality. You'll never see him retreat, you'll never see him surrender. He will never shirk responsibility."

Said club owner Drayton McLane: "I don't know any one individual in Major League Baseball or America, that can help us achieve two goals -- to be a champion, and to make a positive difference -- than Roger Clemens."

By the numbers
In a testament to Clemens' success and durability (especially at his age), there has been just one other pitcher in baseball history to have five consecutive seasons in which he made at least 29 starts and lost fewer than 10 games. Hall of Famer Whitey Ford accomplished the feat from 1960-64. Clemens (ages 37-41) has gone 81-30 in 160 starts in his five-year run (2000-04), while Ford (ages 31-35) went 85-34 over 178 starts. No pitcher in baseball history has gone six consecutive seasons with fewer than 10 losses and at least 29 starts in each season.
18Million -- Highest single-season salary for a pitcher in big league history.
17Wins or more in 12 seasons.
13Opening Day starts, the most of any active pitcher. It could be 14 on April 5.
12Seasons with 200 or more strikeouts, tied with Randy Johnson for the second-most in history. Nolan Ryan leads with 15 200-K seasons.
10All-Star selections.
9Postseason wins.
7Cy Young Awards, a Major League record.
1More career win needed to tie Steve Carlton (329 wins) on the all-time list.
1Ranking among active pitchers in wins, starts, innings, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts.
.667Career winning percentage (328-164), second-highest among pitchers with at least 300 wins, trailing only Lefty Grove (.680).

When the two sides exchanged salary figures Tuesday, the Astros offered Clemens, a 10-time All-Star, $13.5 million, the highest one-year salary proposal in club history. Last year, Clemens accepted a "hometown discount" deal worth $5 million, and he earned an additional $1.8 million when incentives were met.

There clearly were no discounts on the board this time around. Not after what he accomplished in 2004.

Clemens, who was 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA, won the Cy Young Award in 2004 after leading his hometown team to within a game of the World Series. His 18 victories were tied with Carl Pavano for the second-most in the National League. He was the starter of the All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park and helped the Astros set a home attendance record with 3,087,872 fans.

The Astros sold out eight of Clemens' home starts, and averaged 39,433 fans over his 20 starts at Minute Maid Park. Houston averaged 38,122 fans per game at home.

The Astros, having already taken a public relations hit with the losses of Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent, couldn't afford to lose Clemens. What they decided they could afford was $18 million, and it took less than 72 hours from the time the sides filed salary figures to finish a deal.

"This came on so fast," Clemens said. "Within the last week, they said the talks had gone so far that I better get ready to make a decision because the folks over here that I work for, and put my heart on the line for, are getting real close to making an offer."

Clemens, who will turn 43 in August, had talked of retiring following the season, but never completely closed the door. During the Winter Meetings in December, his agents accepted the Astros' offer of salary arbitration and hinted the Rocket would be more inclined to return if the club signed Beltran.

Apparently, the Astros losing Beltran to the Mets wasn't a deal breaker for Clemens, although it came close.

"One thing that softened my decision was when we didn't get Carlos back," Clemens said. "I was just like everyone else. I thought that we went way above and superceded to get him back here. I was sitting there, a little depressed about it, thinking what the next season might be."

Then he read a column in the paper that looked at the bright side of bringing in young players, and Clemens started thinking, things aren't so bad.

   Roger Clemens  /   P
Born: 08/04/62
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 235 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

"Maybe it's time for a couple of the young guys to step up," Clemens said. "Maybe it's their time. It got me excited as a fan.

"I had some great postseason experiences with what all of the experts said were average players. But they became great players, especially during playoff time."

As was the case last year, Clemens first sought the approval of his family -- his wife, Debbie, and four sons -- Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody.

"They said, 'Just remember what it sounded like here, dad, when you took the mound and what it sounded like during the playoffs when we were winning,'" Clemens said, adding that the memory of a sold-out Texans crowd cheering him at halftime a couple of months ago, chanting, "One more year" also stuck in his mind.

"I get to come back and say thank you," Clemens said. "Say thank you to my teammates for that Cy Young they helped me earn, to the fans that helped me earn that Cy Young.

"These are things that I'm going to think about on Monday when I scoot out of town for two weeks to go start [training]. Those are the things I'm going to think about. Now it's time to do it again. Who's to say we can't?"