Gasp! Rocket's Latest Bid For 300 Up In Smoke

As fast as Hideki Matsui's homerun off of Kerry Wood (5-4) put the Yankees ahead 1-0, Eric Karros' three-run blast off of Juan Acevedo made Roger Clemens' (6-4) chance at 300 career victories disappear into thin air. The Cubs went on to defeat the Yankees 5-2, delaying Clemens' dance with destiny for at least another five games.

The second game of the three-game series promised to be an exciting matchup between two immensely talented pitchers. Clemens entered the game with 299 career wins. The big fireballer from Texas would have to face the only other man in history to strike out 20 batters in one game: Kerry Wood. Wood entered the game with 49 career victories, having stumbled in four previous chances to reach 50, but not Friday.

Wood stepped onto the field throwing fire, retiring the Yankees in order in the top of the first with a pair of strikeouts. He struck out two more batters in a perfect second inning, and by the time the Yankees notched their first hit against him in the fifth, Wood had already whiffed them eight times. In the fifth however, Wood allowed a homerun to Matsui, a solo shot to give the Yankees a slim 1-0 lead.

Clemens, determined to win with whatever the Yankees gave him, pressed on. Inning for inning he kept up with the much younger Wood, putting zeroes on the scoreboard for the first six innings.

But the Rocket ran out of gas, or luck, in the seventh. After striking out Corey Patterson, Sammy Sosa – playing while he appeals his eight-game suspension for a corked bat – ripped a single to left field. Clemens then walked Moises Alou on five pitches with a little help from home plate umpire Dan Iassogna. Clemens felt that Iassogna squeezed him on his calls, but Joe Torre nevertheless came out to claim his pitcher.

Clemens left under protest, giving way to Juan Acevedo who was to face Eric Karros. Karros was in the game as a replacement for Hee Seop Choi, who was taken to the hospital after colliding with Wood in the fourth inning and hitting his head on the ground. Karros took the first pitch he saw from Acevedo – a fastball up and in – and sent it hurtling over the left field wall for a three-run homerun. Clemens' possible win turned into a probable loss with one swing.

Jeff Weaver came in to pitch the eighth inning and let the game slip further away. Making his first appearance since moving to the bullpen so Jose Contreras could join the rotation, Weaver retired just one of the three batters he faced, on a sacrifice bunt. The right-hander was charged with two runs in just a third of an inning of work.

In the fourth inning with Jason Giambi batting and the Cubs putting on the shift, Giambi lifted a pop fly to the left side of the infield. With the third baseman – Lenny Harris – playing in the shortstop position, Wood and Choi converged on the ball. Wood made the catch, but his glove hit Choi in the head. Choi fell backward, landing on his back as his head bounced off the third baseline dirt. The first baseman was knocked unconscious and was taken to the hospital for evaluation. Later it was revealed the he had a concussion, but would be just fine.

Wood was visibly shaken after the play, but reliever Mike Remlinger comforted him. After an 18-minute delay, Wood took the mound and finished the game with even more intensity than before.

Wood grabbed his first win since April 29, pitching 7 2/3 innings allowing just one run on three hits and three walks while striking out 11 Yankees. Remlinger relieved him in the eighth and struck out Giambi swinging to end the inning.

Joe Borowski came on to pitch the ninth, and came close to blowing it. He allowed a homerun to Jorge Posada to cut the lead to three, and then put runners on the corners before fanning Juan Rivera and Todd Zeile to end the game.

Clemens was charged with the loss despite pitching arguably his best game since Opening Day. The big right-hander allowed two runs on a season-low three hits and one walk while striking out five. The game left him four strikeouts short of 4,000.

After the game, it was revealed the Clemens had been pitching with an upper-respiratory infection. Despite his apparent illness, The Rocket did everything he could to win but fell just short. He will try again on Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals in Yankee Stadium.

The rubber match of the three-game set between the Cubs and Yankees will be on Sunday at 8:05 pm. Andy Pettitte (5-5, 4.71) gets the start for New York. Mark Prior (6-2, 2.76) – the Cubs' young pitching phenom – will oppose him and try to win the series for the home team.

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