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Yanks' bats help Clemens to No. 350

Yanks' bats help Clemens to No. 350

NEW YORK -- It took three tries, but Roger Clemens pitched his way into the exclusive 350-win club on his terms: with a performance straight out of his personal history files.

The 44-year-old right-hander limited the Minnesota Twins to just one run and two hits in a vintage eight-inning performance, helping lead the Yankees to a 5-1 victory Monday at Yankee Stadium.

"I just feel really blessed. I don't know any other way to put it," said Clemens, who walked one and struck out four in a 97-pitch effort. "To be linked with some of these guys that they're linking me with is just a neat event, and I appreciate it.

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"Everything that's happened to me since 2003 has come my way as a blessing. I hope this is something that my body is telling me, that I'm getting stronger."

Clemens' fifth effort since re-launching with the Yankees was his best, displaying better command and efficiency. The Rocket steamed through a Minnesota lineup that features few pushovers, working ahead in the count and retiring the final 15 Twins to face him.

"That was dominant," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "It was really a lift that we needed. This is not an easy ballclub to pitch to, because they don't swing big. They do little things. He had to make real good pitches all night, and he did."

Clemens became the eighth player in history to reach the 350-victory plateau and the first since Warren Spahn did so for the Milwaukee Braves on Sept. 29, 1963, a game that featured a 22-year-old Torre on the receiving end of the battery.

Torre recalled also catching Spahn's 300th victory, an event that the left-hander helped commemorate by offering Torre his glove from the game, an historical article that disappeared when it was stolen from a personal storage unit.

After Greg Maddux, who has 340, Torre said that 350-game winners could soon be lost forever.

"You probably won't see it," Torre said. "It's getting tougher and tougher to play this game, with all the attention and microscopic stuff that goes on. It's going to be a lot for a pitcher to put up with."

Clemens isn't so sure. Having long defied the odds with an arduous workout regimen, continuing a career that surely has him ticketed for enshrinement in Cooperstown, he believes that commitment is the key to reaching rarified air.

"I think [someone could win 350], if guys are willing to pay the price to do the work to stay healthy and stay out there," Clemens said. "If their bodies hang in there, I don't think there's any reason why they can't. I don't know who will approach that and put the time into do it."

Clemens' enthusiasm was tempered by the events of the Yankees' four-run sixth inning, in which New York batted around to chase starter Boof Bonser and provide the right-hander with the runs to snap a personal three-start losing streak.

In the inning, Alex Rodriguez suffered a strained left hamstring as he hustled to beat out a potential double-play ball. Rodriguez is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and Clemens said he was hopeful the All-Star would be able to avoid the disabled list.

"It was not good, and that's the downer of the night," Clemens said. "We hope, obviously, that it's not a long thing, because we need him."

Limited to one run through the first five innings, the Yankees came alive with a rally sparked by Bobby Abreu, who turned on a hanging slider and lifted it into the upper deck in right field for his fifth home run.

The season has been frustrating for Abreu, who entered play with two hits in his last 26 at-bats. Searching for something to snap his most recent slide, Abreu said he knew he'd made good contact on Bonser's delivery, and was just hoping it'd remain fair.

"I hit it good, but I thought it was going to be foul," Abreu said. "It started to be a little banana at the end. I was trying to get it to be fair, but I hit it pretty good."

Situations where Abreu can freely grin have been few and far between this season, but he found one Monday.

"It's been a tough season for me so far," Abreu said. "I'm trying to enjoy it. I think today was one of the days that makes you feel better and makes you laugh, especially when we're winning. You don't want to laugh when we're losing games. Today was a different day."

Melky Cabrera worked back from a 1-2 count to garner a bases-loaded walk, and Derek Jeter brought home two more runs with a sharp single that bounced under the glove of third baseman Jeff Cirillo, greeting reliever Matt Guerrier.

The rally was enough to back Clemens. With a second-inning run his only blemish, Clemens earned a standing ovation from the crowd of 53,036 after his last pitch of the night --- a called strike that whizzed past the Twins' Lew Ford.

Torre said that Clemens' ability to periodically channel earlier incarnations of himself has been remarkable to watch.

"Not too many guys pitch as long as Roger," Torre said. "To pitch as long as he has and not really change the style of pitching is pretty incredible. The shape he's in, he's taken nothing for granted and he's always been followed around by the magnifying glass. Just to be able to respond the way he does is pretty incredible."

Clemens said he wants the outing to further the Yankees' hopes of digging out of their first-half skid, a slide that has brought them to the fringes of early playoff contention.

"Hopefully it will lead to good things," Clemens said. "We'll have a good week, guys take a deep breath with the break, and we'll get back out there to grind it for the second half. That's all you can hope for."

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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