The Home Team Returning to their Houston roots, inseparable pals Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte want to share the fun of pitching the Astros to a title

February 23, 2004

There is a destiny that makes us brothers;
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.
--EDWIN MARKHAM, A CREED

Like an elm tree naked to winter, a ballpark in February is a cold
and lonely sight, especially at 9:15 in the morning when the only
sound is the whisper of a mischievous wind. At Minute Maid Park
in Houston, however, there is also the low, steady crunching of
footfalls upon the red gravel warning track. Roger Clemens and
Andy Pettitte know each other and their workout regimen so well
that they carry on almost wordlessly. They have mastered their
choreography of abdominal crunches, shuttle runs, sprints,
agility drills and laps. Whenever the silence of their
synchronicity is broken, it is always by the voice of Clemens,
the elder and the extrovert.

"Remember that one time we were doing this," says Clemens, who
stops running and begins an agility drill, tossing a small water
bottle to the left and right of Pettitte, who shuffles back and
forth to catch it and return it, "and all we could find was a
sharp rock to use? Make do with what you can."

The pair then embarks on more laps around the ballpark, two like
figures dressed in black gear and, like Texas itself, broad
across the back, thick through the thighs and tapered through the
calves and ankles. Twin templates of a power pitcher's body.

Outside the park, on the first day that single-game tickets for
the 2004 season go on sale, people have been lined up around the
block since before dawn. Opening Day will sell out in 15 minutes.
Some 54,000 tickets will be purchased--the biggest sales day in
the team's 43-year history. The city is bonkers for the Astros
not only because Pettitte, 31, and Clemens, 41, left the New York
Yankees to sign with Houston as free agents (with the briefest of
retirements for Clemens in between) but also because the two
pitchers are home folk. They have repatriated.

As they run inside the canyon of empty seats, Clemens interrupts
the quiet to say, "Lefty, look around. Has it sunk in yet?"

"No," Pettitte replies. "It still doesn't seem real."

What Clemens understands is that Pettitte--who is a quiet sort
except when he sings in his church's choir; who married his
high-school sweetheart, Laura; who spent nine seasons in New York
but rarely ventured into Manhattan; who loves his privacy among
the bobcats, deer, coyotes and javelinas on his 5,000-acre ranch
in south Texas--is still overwhelmed by the idea of being home.
He has an easy 25-minute commute from his house in suburban Deer
Park to the ballpark. He can watch Joshua, 9, and Jared, 5, play
youth sports, including football for the same peewee team
Pettitte once played for, and take Lexy, 3, to preschool.

What Clemens doesn't know, because his running mate is too
deferential to tell him, is that Pettitte is overwhelmed also by
the simple fact that Clemens is right here by his side--that
Pettitte is the reason why Clemens would risk losing his legacy
as an adoptive Yankee, the flashbulb-popping poignancy of Game 4
of the 2003 World Series when he fittingly left baseball (or so
we thought) with one last strikeout, and the quality time he had
promised his family.

"Andy grew up idolizing Roger," says Alan Hendricks, who, along
with his brother Randy, represents both players. "Now here is
Roger coming out of retirement because of him. Andy still has a
hard time processing that. He told me, 'I still can't believe
this six-time Cy Young winner wants to hang out with me. Wow.'"

Clemens and Pettitte work out, golf, vacation, sightsee, shoot
pool, commiserate and, at least for a few nights last postseason,
room together. Neither goes his way alone. Not by blood but by
destiny have they been made brothers. Brothers in arms.

The hotel freight elevator, like the private jet, the gated
property and the dinner tab picked up by someone else, is one of
the unmistakable if more spartan imprimaturs of certified
American celebrity. Escorted by three security officers, Clemens,
Pettitte, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Astros owner
Drayton McLane are taking this clandestine mode of travel, on
Feb. 6, to the fourth-floor ballroom of the Hilton
Americas-Houston for the annual Houston baseball awards dinner,
but it is Clemens who dominates the car in every way. He signs
baseballs and poses for a photographer with the dinner committee
chairman's two small sons. Selig all but disappears in the
eclipse. McLane, 67, backed up to a wall behind Clemens, begins
to tell a story about how the burly righthander had thrown
batting practice to him at a meet-and-greet session with 200
salespeople from a team sponsor.

"Got one up and in on him," Clemens says, laughing. "Had to.
Didn't like the way he was leanin' over the dish."

Clemens notices Pettitte standing quietly with that smile that
seems locked upon his face ever since he was introduced as an
Astro on Dec. 11. "Look at Lefty up there," Clemens says. "The
big guy's just floatin'. I don't think he even knows where he
is."

Pettitte lowers his head and blushes. Typically, he opts not to
engage in repartee, in part because it's not his style but also
because Clemens is to needling what Errol Flynn was to
swordsmanship. When Clemens recently received an invitation to
play in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and Pettitte moaned that he
hadn't, Clemens coolly shot back, "You're about six Cy Youngs
short of playing in that tournament, pardner." Pettitte took it
in silence.

Clemens is that kid on the playground who's always quick with a
joke and loves to double-dog-dare you. For all the machismo he
exudes on the mound--the way he stares down hitters and that
slow, Texas gunslinger walk--he has not outgrown the unspoiled
perspective of a high school jock. He gets to work out, play a
game and hang out with his buds.

Referred to by the Hendricks brothers as the Big Guy, Clemens
displays a boyish enthusiasm that says he has to play. That's why
Alan Hendricks never fully believed his client last year when he
kept telling the world that he was going home for good to his
wife, Deb, and their four boys.

"I'd believe Roger was shutting it down," Alan says, "only when
he was sitting home on his couch in December and could say, 'I
don't need it. I don't want to do it.'"

In September when the agents e-mailed Clemens a schedule of his
November, December, January and February appearances and
commitments, the calendar included this notation for the week
beginning Feb. 15: "Pitchers and catchers report."

Clemens e-mailed back: "Pitchers and catchers report? Very funny.
No chance."

So Alan had to smile knowingly when he opened an e-mail from
Randy last month. At the time Clemens was in Hawaii with his
family (and the Pettittes, of course), trying to decide if he
should have his agents pursue a deal with the Astros.

The e-mail said only this: "The Big Guy says go forward." About a
week later, a deal with Houston was struck.

Did anybody think the Big Guy actually had a plan for retirement?
A wood shop in the basement, perhaps? Well, he did come up with
something. The day Pettitte signed with the Astros, Clemens told
him, "Here's what we'll do this year: We'll get to the park
around two in the afternoon to work out. We'll get Mac [Brian
McNamee, their personal trainer] to meet us there. I'll be done
in time to get to my kids' Little League games."

Pettitte told a friend the next afternoon at lunch, "What's he
talking about? He's got my day planned out?"

At the Houston baseball dinner Clemens and Pettitte yukked it up
with high school kids, teasing and chatting as they handed out
awards on the dais. Later, when it was his turn to speak,
Pettitte, ever earnest, gave thanks to God and family and
promised to do his best to bring a title to Houston.

Then it was Clemens's turn. Seventeen hundred people, including
Deb, sat rapt before one of their own. "I love that kid to
death," Clemens said of Pettitte. Then he switched into needle
mode.

"He says I aggravate him," Clemens continued. "He aggravates me.
He aggravated me right out of retirement."

As a major leaguer Pettitte disliked Clemens before he even met
him. Oh, they crossed paths in the outfield before a game in
1996. "We probably shouldn't talk too long here," Clemens, then
with the Red Sox, said to Pettitte, "but I wanted to tell you
everybody's proud you're holding up the tradition of Houston. Way
to go, man."

Outside of that, Pettitte, like all Yankees, considered Clemens a
bully with a baseball. Clemens threw too close too often to their
hitters for anyone to like him from a distance. Then suddenly,
after New York's shocking 1999 trade with the Toronto Blue Jays,
Clemens became Pettitte's teammate. The two hit it off
immediately. Their mutual love for working out and golfing
provided the bond for a friendship.

"When I first came up to the Yankees," Pettitte says, "I was
around a lot of veteran pitchers who didn't do a lot of work with
weights. I always liked to run and work with weights. But Roger
took it to another level. For instance, he showed me how to make
my legs stronger with weights and explained why that was
important."

Clemens, more alpha wolf than lone wolf, always preferred company
in his manic training. He befriended pitchers Bruce Hurst and Al
Nipper in Boston and Pat Hentgen and Roy Halladay in Toronto. But
the connection with Pettitte, a fellow Houstonian who attended
the same junior college (San Jacinto in Texas) and had the same
agents, went deeper.

Clemens would help remake Pettitte's body and his pitching style.
Once a crafty, slightly lumpy lefthander who relied on cutting
and running the ball, Pettitte grew into a powerhouse of a
pitcher with hair on his four-seam fastball, blowing it by
hitters at the letters when he wanted. "He's 6'5", 235," Clemens
says. "Nobody should be surprised. He is a power pitcher. He took
the program and ran with it."

Says Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, "Andy became more
streamlined. He was always a terrific pitcher. But if there was a
small percentage of Andy's ability that wasn't being maximized,
Roger found it and got the most out of it."

The Yankees won four American League pennants and two world
championships in the five years Clemens and Pettitte were
teammates in New York. They combined to win 159 regular-season
games--more than any other pair of teammates over that span
(chart below)--and started more than half of the team's
postseason games in that span (36 of 66), going 16-8.

In Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, Pettitte had a chance to
close out the Arizona Diamondbacks, but they scored six earned
runs on seven hits and knocked him out in the third inning. They
hacked as assuredly as if they knew what was coming--and it
turned out they did. Pettitte unknowingly tipped his pitches from
the stretch position. Every time he was going to throw a
fastball, he kept his hands close to his chest as he dropped them
into the set position at the belt. Every time he was going to
throw a breaking ball, he made a loop with his hands, away from
his body, as he came to the set. He learned about his colossal
gaffe the next day, before the Yankees lost Game 7 in the bottom
of the ninth, a game in which Clemens gave up one run and struck
out 10 in 6 1/3 innings.

"I was told about it," Pettitte says. "That was the worst
feeling--like somebody had just robbed me. I had just been the
[League Championship Series] MVP, and I couldn't have been
feeling any better. [In Game 6] my stuff felt so good. For a long
time I refused to believe they had my pitches.

"Roger helped me deal with it. He showed me how he does it, how
to come set with your hands higher, up near your chest. I've done
it that way ever since."

Last year Pettitte leaned on Clemens for support throughout his
21-win season. In May, for instance, during a four-game skid,
Pettitte confided in Clemens that his elbow was tender and that
he wasn't certain he should continue pitching, especially since
the Yankees had not extended his contract in spring training and
he stood to be a free agent after the season. He worried about
blowing out his elbow. Clemens told him he should continue
pitching, unless he was in severe pain. Pettitte did, and the
elbow improved.

It was around that same time that Pettitte, with the help of
Deborah Tymon, the team's vice president of marketing, organized
an effort by the players to give Clemens a retirement gift and to
celebrate his 300th victory. When righthander Mike Mussina
mentioned that the Baltimore Orioles had given Cal Ripken Jr. a
Harley-Davidson motorcycle as a retirement present, Pettitte
decided on giving Clemens a Hummer H2 in the burnt orange of his
beloved Texas Longhorns. Pettitte kicked in the most money. "It
burns me up when people keep writing the Yankees gave the Hummer
to Roger," Alan Hendricks says. "It was Andy's idea."

In September, Laura and the kids returned to Houston for the
start of school. Ever the big brother, Clemens looked after
Pettitte. The two pitchers played pool at a bar near Clemens's
Upper East Side apartment. Clemens took Pettitte to St. Patrick's
Cathedral and explained who was entombed there. Pettitte even
crashed at Clemens's place for a few nights during the
postseason. This was a New York that Pettitte didn't know. Having
made his in-season home in suburban Westchester County, he had
ventured into Manhattan maybe once or twice a year, only for team
functions or to take Laura to a Broadway show. "We'd park in the
same garage each time and have a restaurant picked out nearby,"
she says.

On the night before the Yankees opened their Division Series
against the Minnesota Twins, Clemens took Pettitte to dinner.
Pettitte admitted that the uncertainty of free agency nagged at
him. "You've got the rest of the winter for that," Clemens said.
"It's not about you now. It's about the team."

Pettitte pitched brilliantly in the postseason. He won three
games, all after New York had lost Game 1. The New York press
hailed him as a worthy successor to Whitey Ford. Indeed, Clemens
had been telling him throughout the season, "Stick around and
you've got a chance to run down Whitey's record [for wins by a
Yankee (236)]." As Pettitte was beating the Florida Marlins 6-1
in Game 2 of the World Series, Alan Hendricks turned to Laura in
the stands and said, "You know he's coming back here, don't you?"

"Yes," replied Laura, a Texan as well. "I know. I've followed him
this long. I'll continue to follow him."

Three nights later Clemens made what he had intended to be the
last of his 632 major league starts. He gave up three quick runs
in the first inning on five straight two-out hits but mustered
six scoreless innings thereafter. At the age of 41, on a
sweltering night in Miami and working in his 235th inning of the
year, Clemens blew in his final eight pitches to Marlins second
baseman Luis Castillo at 94, 93, 92, 91, 94, 95, 94 and 93 mph,
the last of which Castillo looked at for strike three. In other
words Clemens went out in a puff of serious smoke, the kind
pitchers half his age only dream about.

Clemens's nine-year-old son, Kacy, ended his father's farewell
press conference by thanking the assembled media for watching
over his dad for 20 years. "We'll take it from here," the boy
said. Golf, maybe some TV work for the Yankees, the requisite
Yankees legend coaching gig in spring training and being a
stay-at-home dad--mostly the dad part--awaited Clemens.

Pettitte, outdueled by Josh Beckett, lost the sixth and final
game of the Series, 2-0. Explaining what happened between
Pettitte and the Yankees after that is like asking the two
parties in a fender bender to describe the accident. The Yankees'
version is that Pettitte wanted to go home, and they abided by
his agents' request for deliberate negotiations. "I started
hearing from writers during the season that he didn't want to
come back," Cashman says. "Clearly Andy wanted to go home. He's
as culpable as we are."

"Not true," Pettitte says. "I got seven offers, and the Yankees'
was the worst. What does that tell you? But you know what? I feel
like God has a plan and all of this worked out for a reason."

On Dec. 10 Pettitte made his decision to pitch for Houston while
he was attending Josh's football banquet. Andy leaned over to
Laura and said, "Let me have the cellphone. I'm going to call
Alan and Randy."

"My heart fell into my stomach," Laura says. "It was so exciting.
I had to ask myself, 'Is this really happening?'"

The Astros had a three-year, $31.5 million offer on the table.
The Yankees' last proposal did not include a fully guaranteed
third year. Randy Hendricks immediately called Cashman and said
they would give the Yankees one last shot: $52 million over four
years. Cashman asked if that offer would get Pettitte. The agent
told him it would "get his attention." Cashman passed.

Pettitte, home from the banquet by then, gave Laura a hug and
whispered, "We're home, babe. We're home."

The doorbell rang early the next day. Clemens had come over to
play--to work out, that is. (The two live about 25 minutes
apart.) Pettitte told Clemens there was something he had to share
with him first. Clemens congratulated him, wished him well,
gladly gave Pettitte his blessing to wear his original number,
21, and then said it was time to get on with their workout. It
was the fourth straight day of hard training for Clemens.

A few mornings later Clemens looked out his window and saw 50
people carrying signs and urging him to pitch for the Astros.
That same day, a radio station delivered an H2, also burnt
orange, to his driveway, his to keep if he ended his retirement
and joined Pettitte. He couldn't go to the grocery store or the
gas station without somebody telling him he had to do it. Had to.

Clemens rolled the idea around in his head. After Pettitte's
signing, the Hendrickses and the Astros had talked about the
possibility of Clemens pitching again. Now McLane was offering to
let Clemens take days off if he wanted to stay home and watch his
sons play sports. Worried how that might sit with teammates,
Clemens asked Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell about such a
privilege during a round of golf. "I told him nobody would have a
problem with it," Bagwell says. "And from what I know about
Roger, and what the team means to him, I don't even think it will
be an issue all that much."

Clemens's sons let him know how they felt about it at Christmas.
They gave him an Astros cap.

There was one more person he would need to consult, and that
would require a reversal of roles. Pettitte had remained as
impartial as he could, waiting for Clemens to resolve the issue
with his family first. Finally, at dinner on Jan. 4, the 10th
night of the 12-day trip to Hawaii, Clemens and Pettitte and
their wives discussed the comeback.

"At dinner I felt like his mind was made up, but that he wanted
to hear it was O.K.," Pettitte says. "He said to me, 'I feel like
I'm going back on my word.' I told him, 'Things change. I never
imagined this would come about.' If I sensed his family was
against it, I never would have said anything. But you could tell
they were pulling for him."

When Clemens returned to his room that night, he told Deb, "Hon,
I'm sitting on the fence, and I'm going to need a nudge." Deb
gave the last push. The Big Guy was back.

"The people [in Houston] were great," Clemens says. "But Andy was
reason 1. And they were 1A."

"Look at that," says Bagwell, his voice barely more than a
whisper. He is standing in front of his locker at Minute Maid
Park, gazing with awe at the nameplates above four lockers across
the room. In order, they read miller, oswalt, pettitte, clemens.
"Do you know how good it feels to see those names?" Bagwell says.
"That's a pretty good corner there."

Righthanders Wade Miller, 27, and Roy Oswalt, 26, were considered
co-aces before the Astros signed the two pitchers who rank fourth
and fifth in winning percentage among active pitchers with 100 or
more decisions. Ever tight, Clemens (310-160, .660) and Pettitte
(149-78, .656) also rank 19th and 21st on the alltime list.
Oswalt (43-17, .717) and Miller (51-32, .614) are off to fine
starts toward joining their company. Righthander Tim Redding, 26,
is the fifth starter in what is an enormously talented rotation.

"Might as well put Clemens's and Pettitte's jerseys in Redding's
locker right now," Bagwell calls out to an equipment manager.
"Save him the trouble of embarrassing himself trying to work up
the nerve to ask them for their autographs."

The Astros won 87 games last year, one fewer than the National
League Central-champion Chicago Cubs. Houston has never won a
playoff series in seven tries. But as the Astros gather this week
to open spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., the talk back home is
not just about getting out of the first round, it's also about
winning the whole darn shootin' match. Clemens and Pettitte
changed how big a city could dream.

"I'm excited to meet the guys, to see how the young guys work,"
Clemens says. "Maybe some will go after it [with their training]
like Andy. I'm glad I'm here for him. I know what it's like,
going through that transition after you leave someplace."

The next seven months on Clemens's calendar are scheduled with
barely room to breathe. He is cast in the roles of the older
brother, the veteran leader, the embodiment of a World Series
wish, the living legend, Mr. Astro (he has a 10-year personal
services contract with McLane) and still the husband and father
who promises to be there for the boys' big games. "It's going to
be a balancing act," Clemens says.

He knows--he cherishes--that what made this perfect storm of a
comeback possible in the first place is the brotherhood he shares
with Pettitte. That is why, with more gravel to crunch beneath
his feet, he runs on. Never alone.

SI.com
Tom Verducci's Insider column, every Tuesday at si.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. COMFORT ZONE Living only 25 minutes away, Clemens (right) is a regular fixture in Pettitte's suburban Deer Park house. COLOR PHOTO: KATHY WILLENS/AP BUDS As fellow Texans in the Bronx, Pettitte and Clemens built a long-running bond. COLOR PHOTO: COLIN BRALEY/REUTERS Schilling and Johnson COLOR PHOTO: BRETT COOMER/GETTY IMAGES (LEFT) LITTLE ROCKETS Clemens (at 10, right) got his sons' backing to play again. COLOR PHOTO: ROGER CLEMENS FOUNDATION [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: BRETT COOMER/GETTY IMAGES (LEFT) FAMILY FIRST Being home with his kids was a plus for Pettitte (at 11, right). COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANDY PETTITTE [See caption above]

"If there was a small percentage of Andy's ability that wasn't
being maximized, Roger found it," says Cashman.

"[Clemens] said to me, 'I feel like I'm going back on my
word,'" Pettitte recalls. "I told him, 'Things change.'"

Pettitte made his decision to pitch for Houston while he and
Laura were attending Josh's football banquet.

[BOX]

PROLIFIC PAIRING

Over the past five seasons Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte have
combined to win more games than any other two teammates.

Pitchers (Games won since 1999) Team Total

Andy Pettitte (82) and Roger Clemens (77) Yankees 159
Greg Maddux (87) and Tom Glavine (69) Braves 156
Jamie Moyer (81) and Freddy Garcia (72) Mariners 153
Randy Johnson (87) and Curt Schilling (58) Diamondbacks 145
Tim Hudson (80) and Mark Mulder (64) Athletics 144

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)