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MLB NOTEBOOK: Clemens looks strong in comeback debut; Red Sox-to-Dodgers blockbuster deal done

In his first appearance on a baseball mound since retiring and successfully fighting federal charges, former MLB Cy Young winner Roger Clemens pitched for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters on Saturday night.

In his first appearance on a baseball mound since retiring and successfully fighting federal charges, former MLB Cy Young winner Roger Clemens pitched for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters on Saturday night.

SUGAR LAND, Texas — Roger Clemens was back on the mound at age 50, striking out hitters again.

Pitching for the first time in five years, Clemens tossed 3 1-3 scoreless innings Saturday night for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League.

Clemens faced the Bridgeport Bluefish and struck out two, including former major leaguer Joey Gathright to start the game. He allowed one hit without a walk and threw 37 pitches.

Despite his success, Clemens said the outing didn’t make him contemplate a return to the majors.

“No, it doesn’t,” Clemens said. “I’ve had success before at that level and other things. Again, it’s a great deal of work and I’m not thinking that at this point.”

Scouts from the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals were on hand to watch Clemens’ comeback — for however long it lasts and wherever it leads.

“I think it will fuel that speculation,” Royals pro scout Ron Toenjes said after watching the performance. “I just don’t know what will happen. I don’t think anyone does.”

Sugar Land manager Gary Gaetti, a two-time All-Star third baseman with Minnesota, said he was impressed by Clemens’ outing after such a long layoff. He admitted before the game he was a bit concerned about how things would go because of Clemens’ age and time off.

“He did a great job,” Gaetti said. “He really did.”

Tal Smith, a longtime Astros executive and currently a special adviser to the Skeeters, said Clemens had great command and that he believes he could pitch in the majors again.

Clemens certainly was happy to be back on a diamond instead of in a courtroom. In June, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner was acquitted of charges he lied to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

Clemens, who last pitched for the New York Yankees in 2007, worked a 1-2-3 first inning and fanned two. His fastball was clocked at 88 mph, and he mixed in curves and splitters. He finished with four groundouts and four flyouts.

Toenjes liked what he saw.

“The thing that I was impressed with is you have a 50-year-old man out there throwing 87-88 (mph) most of the night, and he’s got a real good splitter,” he said. “His command wasn’t as good as it could have been, but that it was a good, hard splitter, which is what you wanted to see.”

Wearing the No. 21 that he sported during his rise to fame with Boston nearly three decades ago, Clemens got a big cheer when he took the mound.

After whiffing Gathright, Clemens retired Luis Figueroa on a grounder and struck out Prentice Redman to end the inning. The sellout crowd, with many fans wearing Skeeters T-shirts with Clemens’ name on them, gave him another loud ovation.

Clemens didn’t allow a hit until a single by James Simmons with two outs in the second inning. He retired the next batter to end the eight-pitch inning.

Clemens has a bit of a belly that scores of 50-year-olds have, but he was effective enough against many hitters who were almost half his age.

The Rocket hasn’t committed to pitching more than one game for the Skeeters, but some believe this is the first step in an attempted return to the majors.

Clemens is set to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot going to voters late this year. If he plays in a major league game this year, his Hall consideration would be pushed back five years.

Clemens, who wore gray cleats with bright yellow accents, needed 13 pitches to get through a perfect third inning. He threw one more pitch after that and Figueroa lined out to end Clemens’ night with the Skeeters on top 1-0.

He received a standing ovation as he left. He stopped to tip his cap to the appreciative overflow crowd of 7,724 before heading to the dugout to begin recuperating and see how his body responds to his big night.

After Clemens left the game, he stood along the railing of the dugout and chatted with his teammates, including fellow former major league pitcher Scott Kazmir and Jason Lane, who played with Clemens on Houston’s 2005 World Series team.

Fans kept inching down near the dugout armed with phones, IPads and cameras looking to snap a picture and collect a memory of the big night in this Houston suburb about 20 minutes from downtown.

Playing close to home, he had a large group of friends and family among the crowd, including wife Debbie and sons Kacy and Kody.

Clemens earned about $160 million and won 354 games in a 24-year career with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros. His 4,672 strikeouts are third-most and he was picked for 11 All-Star games.

Clemens bounded into the home clubhouse a little more than an hour and a half before the game wearing a gray Longhorn shirt, jeans and cowboy boots and bellowed, “how we doing, how we doing?” as he walked through shaking hands with his teammates.

His highlighted blond hair was a bit spiky on top, causing a couple of his teammates to ask each other if he’d gotten a new haircut.

One fan held a sign which read: ‘The Rocket has landed in Sugar Land,’ and children squealed with delight as he came on the field to warm up about 30 minutes before the game.

Clemens has spent much of his time out of baseball defending his reputation.

He 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 into whether he 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 now.

Many of his former teammates have said they believe that he could pitch again in the majors.

Clemens had two great seasons with the Astros after he turned 40, going 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 2004 to win his record seventh Cy Young Award. He was 13-8 with a career-low 1.87 ERA in 2005 while helping his hometown Astros reach their only World Series, and the team has already said it wouldn’t rule out bringing him back this year.


It’s official: BosSox’s biggest stars — Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett — to Dodgers

BOSTON — The Los Angeles Dodgers are stocking up for the stretch run with some new, expensive players who couldn’t help the Boston Red Sox make it to the postseason this year or last.

The Dodgers acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett and injured outfielder Carl Crawford from Boston on Saturday, hoping to boost their playoff hopes by taking on the underperforming and high-priced stars who failed to thrive in a fractious Red Sox clubhouse.

Boston also sent infielder Nick Punto and about $11 million in cash to Los Angeles in the nine-player trade that was the biggest in Dodgers history. In return, the Red Sox got first baseman James Loney, pitcher Allen Webster, infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr. and two players to be named while shedding more than $250 million in salaries through 2018.

“We understand that you have to spend money to be good in this league,” said Magic Johnson, the former NBA star who is part of the rich new Dodgers ownership group that has dramatically revamped their roster in the last month.

“When we came in, we made it clear that we want to build the Dodgers back to what they once were,” Dodgers president Stan Kasten said.

Los Angeles, which trailed the San Francisco Giants in the NL West by three games at the time of the trade, has in the past month acquired shortstop Hanley Ramirez, outfielder Shane Victorino, starter Joe Blanton and reliever Brandon League. The latest deal comes less than a week before the Aug. 31 deadline for players to be eligible for the postseason.

“It’s just exciting,” Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp said. “Everybody wants to win, and the guys up there are really making a statement and showing us that they want to win just as bad as we do.”

For the Red Sox, who entered the night 13½ games back in the AL East, the trade signaled a concession for 2012 and a chance to rebuild without hefty contracts given during an undisciplined foray into free agency that, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington conceded, has not worked out.

“It gives us an opportunity to build the next great Red Sox team,” Cherington said. “We just felt like to get to be a team we believe in and a team the fans deserve, to sustain winning year after year, it was going to take something more than cosmetic changes. It was going to take something bold.”

The Red Sox will save $261 million in salaries through 2018, plus a few million more for the rest of this season. Boston will send $11 million going to the Dodgers as part of the deal, according to a baseball official with knowledge of the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because the financial terms were not public.

“The bottom line is we haven’t won enough games. That goes back to last September,” Cherington said. “We just haven’t performed on the field. As a team we haven’t performed. … This is not about the four players we gave up — anything particularly they did wrong. We just didn’t perform as a team.”

Beckett was a key part of the team that won the 2007 World Series, but he was also the ringleader last year when the ballclub went 7-20 in September and missed a playoff spot on the final day of the season. Reports of players drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games surfaced afterward, and Beckett’s haughty demeanor — and rising ERA — continued to alienate fans.

The 2003 World Series MVP with the Florida Marlins, Beckett now moves from fried chicken to the land of In-N-Out Burger, bringing with him a pair of other players who were not productive enough to justify their contracts. Beckett was due $31.5 million over the next two years; Gonzalez has $127 million coming through 2018; Crawford is due $102.5 million over the next five seasons.

Both Cherington, who replaced Theo Epstein after the September collapse, and manager Bobby Valentine, who was brought in to replace Terry Francona, defended their departing players. But Valentine agreed that change was needed in the clubhouse.

“Yes. It was necessary,” he said. “(It) just didn’t seem like it mixed as well as it should.”

Players traded in August have to first pass through waivers. Any team with a worse record than Los Angeles could have claimed Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford before the Dodgers, but it would have had to pick up their contracts.

Instead, the teams worked out a deal that reshuffled the NL West race and had the rest of baseball talking, too.

“It’s surprising,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You’re not used to seeing that many big names go in one trade — a bunch of All-Stars, guys who have been in World Series and played at a very high level.”

Red Sox players said before Saturday night’s game against Kansas City that they were surprised to see their longtime teammates gone in a deal that came together quickly. Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford were already on their way to Los Angeles on Saturday, according to a picture Punto posted on Twitter; Boston pitcher John Lackey had already claimed Beckett’s locker, pulling rank over Clay Buchholz.

“Nothing surprises me in this game,” Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross in the Fenway Park clubhouse, where the nameplates had already been removed from his former teammates’ lockers. “This isn’t your normal trade. This is a blockbuster deal that will probably go down as one of the biggest, but it still doesn’t surprise me.”

Gonzalez, a former San Diego Padres star, said on Twitter in English and Spanish that he was excited to get back to California. Beckett joined the social media site to thank Red Sox fans, writing “Even in the tough times I ran into so many wonderful people that were so awesome I’m Greatly appreciative to all of you.”

The 32-year-old Beckett is 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts this season. A three-time All-Star, he is 130-92 lifetime with a 3.93 ERA.

Gonzalez, 30, is a four-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. He hit .300 with 15 home runs and 86 RBIs this season, his second since being traded by San Diego to Boston.

Crawford, at 31, hit .282 with three homers and 19 RBIs in 31 games this season. He had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow this week and is expected to take six to nine months to recover. Crawford was a four-time All-Star with Tampa Bay before signing with Boston.

The 34-year-old Punto hit .200 with one homer and 10 RBIs as a backup.

Loney hit .254 with four homers and 33 RBIs for the Dodgers this season. At 28, he’d spent his whole career in Los Angeles.

The 25-year-old DeJesus was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. He hit .273 in 23 games for the Dodgers this year. Webster, a 22-year-old right-hander, was 6-8 with a 3.55 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga.

The Red Sox and Dodgers haven’t made a lot of deals over the years. Perhaps the most notable came in the summer of 1939 when Boston sent a minor leaguer to Brooklyn: future Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese.