Baseball: Chicago pitchers crush resistance after pain forces Clemens' retreat

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The Independent Online

On a bleak and chilly Saturday night in the Windy City, the six-time Cy Young winner departed with a strained hamstring, having thrown 54 pitches to retire just six batters. Thereafter Houston had their chances to win a taut, edgy contest in which they twice erased early Chicago leads. In the end, however, the Sox's relief pitching proved decisive.

Left-hander Neil Cotts came on to erase a threat in the Astros' eighth inning. Then White Sox closer Bobby Jenks gave a passable imitation of Clemens in his prime, firing 99 and 100mph fastballs past the Astros' last batters to mop up the last resistance.

The win gave the White Sox a flying start in their bid to clinch their first world championship since 1917, and expunge the memories of the infamous "Black Sox" two years later, who threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

But defeat raises worrying problems for the Astros, above all whether Clemens' creaking body will be up for his next scheduled start in Game Five next Thursday - that is assuming the White Sox do not pull off a four-game sweep in the best-of-seven Series.

Asked about his hamstring, which has been a problem since the summer, Clemens gritted his teeth: "I don't know that it really matters. If you need more aspirin, if you need more ice, this is the time you get it and you don't ask questions."

Clemens is not the only Astros warrior fighting in vain against anno Domini. The 37-year-old Jeff Bagwell, designated hitter on Saturday, has been a symbol of the franchise for 15 years. But he too was a shadow of his former self, struggling with a shoulder injury.