SUGAR LAND, Texas (AP) — Roger Clemens’ second start for the Sugar Land Skeeters had a special twist to it when the 50-year-old right-hander pitched to his son who was squatting behind the plate.
As enjoyable as it was on Friday night, it wasn’t enough to convince Clemens that he is ready for a return to the majors.
“At this point I don’t see that happening, because I just know my recovery time right now,” he said regarding pitching for Houston this season. “I think I’ve pushed my body and shoulder to where it needs to be.”
But true to form, Clemens, who has already come out of retirement three times to pitch in the majors, left open the possibility of a future comeback.
“I would have to get ready,” Clemens said. “It would be fun. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do it next year.”
Clemens pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings for Sugar Land of the independent Atlantic League with his oldest son Koby catching him against Long Island.
Pitching in front of a sellout crowd that included country music star and Clemens buddy Toby Keith, and Houston rapper Paul Wall, Clemens looked better than he did last month when he tossed 3 1-3 scoreless innings for the Skeeters.
He allowed two hits and struck out one, and was awarded the win by the official scorer in the 4-0 victory.
“What a special game this is when you have opportunity at 50 to go out there and play a little catch with your oldest son,” Clemens said.
His 25-year-old son was awed by the chance to catch his father, who won 354 games in a 24-year major league career.
“There’s not many words that describe the opportunity and special moment this really was,” Koby Clemens said. “For me it’s the most unreal thing that I could have done.”
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner pitched a perfect first inning before getting his only strikeout when he caught Brandon Sing looking to start the second. The first hit was a two-out single by Matt Esquivel in the second. He retired the side in the third and allowed one hit — a single — in the fourth.
His last out of the fourth inning was a fly ball hit by former New York Mets outfielder Timo Perez. He had faced Clemens before, going 0 for 4 against him the second game of the 2000 World Series when Clemens pitched for the crosstown Yankees.
He retired the first two hitters in the fifth before he hugged his son and headed to the dugout to a standing ovation.
For the first time, Clemens is set to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot that will go out to voters later this year. If he plays in a major league game this season, his timetable would be pushed back five years.
The Rocket’s fastball was clocked as high as 88 mph, and he also threw curves and splitters.
He threw 54 pitches, and looked spry fielding a dribbler and throwing a batter out at first in the fourth inning.
“After having only pitched twice competitively in the last five years or so, I think it’s great progress,” said Tal Smith, a longtime former Astros executive who is now a special advisor to the Skeeters. “His command, his stuff and certainly his knowledge of pitching and his acumen are good enough to pitch at any level, I think.”
The Astros have two homestands remaining. They face two teams that are out of contention next week in the Cubs and Phillies. The last homestand beginning Sept. 21 features Pittsburgh and St. Louis, two clubs in the NL wild-card hunt.
Last-place Houston has said it would be open to the idea of bringing back Clemens. The Astros sent a scout to watch both of his outings for the Skeeters.
“Of course the ultimate goal from a fan’s perspective is to watch him pitch for the Astros at Minute Maid, but this is just a step toward that,” said Wall, the rapper who named his son William after Clemens’ first name. “I don’t know if it will ever happen or if he wants to do that. But that’s something that we as the fans want.”
Clemens returned to the field in the middle of the fifth inning with Keith by his side. The crowd raised thousands of red cups that were passed out as Keith’s hit song “Red Solo Cup,” whose video Clemens makes a cameo in, played.
“He’s still bringing the gas and it’s pretty amazing,” said Keith, who watched the game from the dugout.
It was the second time Clemens and Koby have shared a professional baseball field together. The two were teammates in 2006 when the elder Clemens was making his comeback with the Astros and pitched a game for Class-A Lexington. This one is different, though, because Koby played third base in that game.
“I’ve had some great backstops,” Clemens said, adding that two of the catchers he played with during his major league career — Darrin Fletcher and Charlie O’Brien — attended Friday’s game. “Now I can add my son to that list.”
Koby made a couple of visits to the mound during his father’s outing, but it was unclear if he was giving him pointers or simply letting the AARP-card eligible pitcher catch his breath.
Clemens’ signing with the Skeeters is the first time he has been in the spotlight since he was acquitted of charges he lied to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs in June.
Clemens was accused by former personal trainer Brian McNamee in the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball of using steroids and HGH, allegations Clemens denied before Congress. The Justice Department began an investigation concerning whether Clemens had lied under oath, and in 2010 a grand jury indicted him on two counts of perjury, three counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing Congress.
He was acquitted of all the charges on June 19 after a 10-week trial and had largely stayed out of the public spotlight until signing with the Skeeters on Aug. 20.
Clemens will be back with the Skeeters on Monday night. But it’s only to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Texas Longhorns night at the ballpark.