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Clemens announces return to Yanks

Clemens announces return to Yanks

NEW YORK -- The Yankees desperately needed another quality starting pitcher. Roger Clemens didn't want to wait any longer to pitch. It all came together on a memorable Sunday afternoon.

The Rocket has lifted off again in the Bronx, returning to Yankee Stadium and resuming his career in pinstripes, leaving the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox -- Clemens' other potential suitors -- behind in past speculation.

The Yankees announced on Sunday that they have signed Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, to a Minor League contract for the 2007 season. Clemens will earn $28 million on a prorated basis from the first day he is added to the Yankees' Major League roster, and make no mistake: he's in New York for one reason only.

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"I'm coming back to do the only thing they know how to do with the Yankees, and that's win a championship," Clemens said. "Anything else is a failure, and I know that."

"This is a huge statement -- don't count us out, because we want to be in it for the long haul," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, whose club improved to 14-15 with a 5-0 victory over the Mariners on Sunday.

Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, who delivered an impassioned statement on Monday offering his backing for Cashman and manager Joe Torre, released another on Sunday evening trumpeting the acquisition of Clemens.

"As I pledged just a few days ago, I will do everything within my power to support Brian Cashman, Joe Torre and this team as we fight to bring a 27th championship back to New York," Steinbrenner said in a statement released by spokesperson Howard Rubenstein.

"Roger Clemens is a winner and a champion, and he is someone who can be counted on to help make this season one that all Yankees fans can be proud of. The sole mission of this organization is to win a world championship."

The major tipping point in the Yankees' favor was their immediate need for Clemens, said the right-hander's agent, Randy Hendricks.

Roger Clemens

Hendricks said that the Red Sox and Astros both indicated that they would prefer to wait until later in the season to keep Clemens fresher for potential postseason rushes. The Yankees, with a rotation that has been ravaged by inconsistency and injury, wanted Clemens to be on their mound as soon as possible.

"From my point of view, he's Roger Clemens," Hendricks said. "When he says he's ready to play, I think teams should listen."

Outfitted for his press conference in a Yankees cap, a black T-shirt and checked dress pants, Clemens was all smiles, but his progression to become one of the Yankees' starting pitchers on that projected October road remains hazy.

Clemens had not even officially put ink to paper on the contract when he waved to the Yankee Stadium crowd in the seventh inning on Sunday, telling the fans that it was a "privilege to be back" and that he'd be talking to them soon.

The future Hall of Famer is expected to require at least three rehabilitation starts at various stops in the Yankees' Minor League system, likely beginning at Tampa of the Florida State League.

"I've got a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, and I understand that," Clemens said. "But I have a lot of help here to get this club where it wants to go. Everyone wants to be a champion. In New York, it's a different level, and I understand that."

Cashman did not rule out the first week of June as a possible date, while Clemens, who has kept his arm in shape by throwing early and often to Astros organizational players, said he hoped to be on a mound at some point within a week to 10 days.

"Any chance I could have to get a ball in my hand, I was doing it," Clemens said.

The negotiations, as outlined by Cashman and Hendricks, took on a dizzying pace.

Clemens had a face-to-face meeting with Steinbrenner at Legends Field in March, around which time Cashman said he presented Hendricks with a potential dollar figure to place Clemens under contract. The timing was not right then, he was told.

During the Yankees' sweep of Texas this week, Cashman said that he again inquired of Hendricks if it would be possible to jump from Arlington to Houston for a sit-down meeting with Clemens. That meeting would be impossible, Cashman was surprised to learn, because Hendricks was in Boston at Fenway Park.

"Here I am, trying to get Randy Hendricks on the phone, and he's text-messaging me, 'Can't talk right now. I'm at Fenway Park,'" Cashman said.

Cashman said he had finally had a conversation on Thursday evening with Hendricks that went "very well," reporting as such to Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine.

On Friday afternoon, the Yankees conducted an internal conference call with Levine, Cashman and three Steinbrenners -- George and his sons, Hank and Hal -- during which possible scenarios were discussed. A dollar amount was in the near future.

"As always, we're thankful to have the Steinbrenners do what they do," Cashman said.

But the turns of the recent week hadn't changed the Yankees' stance. Perhaps it just amplified it.

From the winter months forward, even in a tight-lipped discussion with reporters on Saturday morning, Cashman had maintained that the Yankees would be interested in negotiating with Clemens if and when the hurler decided he wanted to pitch in 2007.

"We knew what we wanted," Cashman said. "That was always stated from the start. We had to go through the process."

"Make no mistake about it -- the Yankees were in both my ears the whole time," Clemens said.

The courtship concluded on Sunday, as Clemens and Hendricks boarded an early-morning Continental Airlines commercial flight out of Houston, bound for New York. Some of the passengers on board the flight recognized Clemens, as did assorted baggage handlers, airline personnel and well-wishers.

With Clemens hid from the mainstream press for days, some may have put the pieces of the puzzle together; Cashman's cell phone began ringing in about the third inning, and the Yankees GM, fearful that his well-kept secret might be beginning to leak out, refused to answer the buzzing device.

After a brief pit stop to change out of jeans and cowboy boots at a Manhattan hotel -- Hendricks joked that there was no sense in further perpetuating the Texas stereotype -- Clemens finally arrived at Yankee Stadium in the sixth inning of Sunday's game against the Mariners.

"I was still calling people on my way to the stadium to tell them what's going on," Clemens said.

He was too late to witness a bench-clearing melee between the two clubs, but just in time to steal the show and address a crowd of 52,553 in what will surely go down as one of the more memorable Yankees moments in recent seasons.

As a Yankee, Clemens -- who was originally acquired from the Blue Jays prior to the 1999 season in exchange for Homer Bush, Graeme Lloyd and David Wells -- won two World Series championships and compiled a record of 77-36 with a 3.99 ERA, striking out 946 batters in 157 starts.

On June 21, 2003, Clemens became the 21st pitcher in Major League history to reach the 300-win milestone, while also recording his 4,000th career strikeout in a 5-2 victory over the Cardinals.

Clemens made 19 starts for the Astros last season, posting a 7-6 record with a 2.30 ERA after signing a Minor League contract on May 31, reprising his role as the Astros' in-season acquisition after going 13-8 with a career-best 1.87 ERA in 32 starts for Houston in 2005.

"I don't know that I have anything left to prove," Clemens said. "I still have people that I don't want to let down: Cash and Mr. Steinbrenner. I thank them again for this opportunity."

Clemens, who had said he would pitch only for a team with hopes of playoff contention, will join a Yankees club that has seen its starting pitching suffer through an extended stretch of injuries and struggles.

Clemens' good friend, Andy Pettitte, has twice been pressed into relief action to help out a beleaguered bullpen, while Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Jeff Karstens, Phil Hughes and Carl Pavano have all spent time on the disabled list.

"I've seen what's been going on," Clemens said. "I think I've been as shocked and surprised as anyone."

The Yankees revealed that Clemens will receive the same travel privileges that he enjoyed with the Astros, allowed the option of skipping certain road trips to attend to various family functions or to pursue his passion of helping young players chase their Major League dreams.

The Yankees agreed to such stipulations based upon an internal review of Clemens' uniqueness and the minimal impact it would be judged to have on the club's mostly veteran clubhouse.

"He'll be here at times, he may not be here at times," Cashman said. "But I know one thing: We'll be happy every five days when he shows up on our mound."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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