Not much debate: Rocket the best

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

May 09, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

No one should be surprised that Roger Clemens has gotten off to the best start of any pitcher in baseball.

The Rocket is one of those physical anomalies that comes around once or twice a generation, just like another Texas-bred Hall of Famer who pitched well into his 40s without missing a beat.

Nolan Ryan defied anatomical science by throwing a baseball nearly 100 mph at a point when most major league pitchers are 10 years into the charity golf circuit. Clemens could pitch until he is 46 if he were so inclined, but he probably will stop at 42 with an unprecedented seventh Cy Young Award after this season.

Ryan, owner of seven no-hitters and 1,500 more strikeouts than Clemens, could be criticized for his early control problems and so-so winning percentage. No one - ever - was better than Sandy Koufax when he dominated the National League in the 1960s, but his tenure as the greatest pitcher lasted only from 1961 to '66.

Clemens has nearly twice as many victories as Koufax, whose career ended prematurely because of an arm injury, and the Rocket's .664 lifetime winning percentage leaves him behind only Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson among pitchers with as many or more career victories.

Now with the Houston Astros, Clemens likely will surpass Ryan's career total of 324 victories this year, and he has lost 132 fewer games.

Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez came into this season with the best winning percentage of any pitcher in baseball history (.712). He has emulated Koufax with a terrific eight-year run that exceeds anything Clemens has ever done in terms of winning percentage and ERA over a similar period, but he'll have to overcome nagging doubts about his durability.

Meanwhile, Clemens is preparing to go for his major league-leading seventh victory on Tuesday night against the Florida Marlins.

Simply the best.

Pedro, Part II

Martinez turned in a strong performance against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night at Jacobs Field, then reacted sarcastically to questions after the game.

"I just got lucky, I think. ... I got lucky today," he said, after improving to 4-2.

The Red Sox right-hander has cut off negotiations with the team on a contract extension and apparently feels he hasn't gotten a fair shake from the Boston media. It probably didn't help that he declined to talk to reporters most of spring training.

One-dimensional attack

The Philadelphia Phillies have taken advantage of the friendly confines of new Citizens Bank Park to set a club-record home run pace through the first five weeks of the season, but manager Larry Bowa is a bit concerned about their heavy dependence on the long ball.

Through Thursday, 55 of the club's 112 runs had been driven in by home runs.

"We have to generate some offense besides hitting home runs," Bowa said. "I'm worried about the inconsistency of the offense."

Better homecoming

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen was booed again during a midweek three-game series in Philadelphia, but the negative fan reaction didn't seem as intense as it was last year.

Rolen thinks he knows the reason.

"I put six people on the pass list," he said. "The boos shouldn't be as bad."

Mondesi gets paid

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Raul Mondesi is getting paid again, now that an order to freeze his salary has been lifted by the Dominican court that awarded Mario Guerrero $640,000 for helping in Mondesi's early development as a baseball player.

Mondesi, who signed a one-year, $1.15 million deal, didn't waste any time spending part of his paycheck. He went to Louis Vuitton and bought a watch for teammate Mike Johnston to compensate him for giving up No. 43 when Mondesi joined the club.

New closer

The struggling Arizona Diamondbacks have made Jose Valverde their closer after a series of late-inning blowups by veteran Matt Mantei.

Mantei's ERA has ballooned to 11.88, he has blown three of seven save opportunities and he has not pitched two times in a row without giving up a home run.

The switch may not be permanent, but Mantei is going to have to prove that he deserves his job back.

"We want to see him go out there and pitch the way we know he's capable," manager Bob Brenly said. "With his stuff, I have no doubts that it's just a matter of time."

Sorry ... not sorry

Chicago White Sox reliever Billy Koch made a public apology after nearly letting leads get away in the ninth inning on Monday and Wednesday nights in Baltimore.

"I apologize to everyone out there," Koch said Wednesday night. "It's not fair to have to bite your nails down to a bloody stump watching me pitch."

Meanwhile, Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon said he took a lot of abuse from fans when he walked back to his hotel after ordering a record four intentional walks to Giants slugger Barry Bonds on May 1 at SBC Park in San Francisco.

"A few people said something," McKeon said. " `Chicken.' `You suck.' I said, `Come out tomorrow and you'll see him walk three more times.' "

Rhodes struggles

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