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Clemens Loses Yankees Debut

March 7, 1999

HAINES CITY, Fla. (AP) _ Roger Clemens could hardly wait.

Eager to make his New York Yankees debut, he drove himself almost halfway across the state of Florida, beating the team bus to the ballpark. He dressed quickly. And when it was time to pitch, he jogged to the mound.

``Every spring I get excited about the challenges,″ he said Saturday. ``This year, there is a new environment and my adrenaline was pumping.″

Clemens wound up with a loss, giving up three runs and seven hits in three innings as the Kansas City Royals beat New York’s split squad 9-1.

But more than the ``L″ next to his name in the boxscore, there was this strange sight _ ``NY″ on his cap.

``There’s nothing funny about it,″ the five-time Cy Young Award winner said. ``Ever since the first couple of days in camp, I’ve felt comfortable with this.″

Others are taking a bit longer to adjust.

``It’s like, `Wow!′ ″ pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said. ``I occasionally pinch myself.″

``It’s fun to see him out there in pinstripes,″ right fielder Paul O’Neill said.

On this day, Clemens was wearing a navy jersey instead of the Yankees’ more famed uniform. No matter _ the notion of Clemens playing for New York was what many came to see.

The crowd of 6,525 was close to the first sellout at Baseball City Stadium since 1990, and it featured a lot of Yankees shirts and hats, far more than Royals attire.

A lot of fans made the one-hour drive from Tampa, where the team holds spring training. Owner George Steinbrenner, however, stayed back as the other Yankees’ split squad played Boston.

WABC radio, unlike The Boss, decided not to miss this one. The Yankees’ flagship station reshuffled its plans and had its crew drive to this game instead of broadcasting the other one against the Red Sox.

The fact that Clemens did not blow away the Royals, even though he struck out four and walked none, bothered no one. Traded from Toronto last month, he’s expected to help the Yankees win another World Series championship, not a spring training title.

``I bought tickets as soon as I heard he was going to pitch,″ said 24-year-old Rob Bologna of Orlando. ``I mean, I just had to see his first game for the Yanks.″

Dressed in a Yankees top and shorts, Bologna took 20 pictures of Clemens. And that was just when he was warming up in the bullpen.

Clemens wound up throwing 58 pitches, more than starters usually throw in their first spring outing. He mixed in a few sliders and splitters with his fastball, which he estimated he threw at ``75-80 percent.″

``I was focused on just trying to not do anything crazy as far as my legs,″ he said. ``I’ve done that before when I’ve been too revved up.″

Clemens got off to an easy start, barehanding a weak comebacker by Carlos Beltran. He later gave up four singles and three doubles, though several of the hits were opposite-field slices.

``I was pleased. It was nice,″ he said. ``I wanted to get this first one out of the way.″

The Yankees also got to witness first-hand the kind of intensity the Rocket brings.

After striking out Johnny Damon to end the second inning, Clemens gave a slight pump of his fist, congratulating catcher Jorge Posada for his selection of pitches.

His next start probably will come Thursday in Tampa against Texas. And though manager Joe Torre has not announced it yet, it’s thought that Clemens will start the season opener April 5 at Oakland.

That’s when the Yankees and their fans will get to enjoy watching the ace who won his final 15 decisions and did not lose after May.

``We didn’t see the real Clemens today,″ O’Neill said.

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