NEW YORK -- Here they were again, settling the issue after All-Star John Lackey and living legend Roger Clemens had locked horns, Texas style, in a classic Saturday afternoon pitchers' duel in front of 54,497 at Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter, All-Star shortstop and clutch hitter supreme, against Francisco Rodriguez, All-Star closer with few peers. Chalk another one up to K-Rod.
Just as he had on May 27 to complete a three-game sweep, Rodriguez retired Jeter, this time on a ground ball that shortstop Orlando Cabrera intercepted for a force at second, wrapping up a 2-1 Angels triumph in 13 innings, the club's longest game of the season. "It kind of feels like a playoff game every time I pitch here," Lackey said, having authored eight brilliant innings to match Clemens' eight innings of one-run work. Howie Kendrick, putting the final touches to a tremendous performance, doubled and scored the winning run in the top of the 13th against losing pitcher Luis Vizcaino (4-2). Jose Molina slapped a hard ground ball to the right of first baseman Miguel Cairo, who smothered it with a dive and then threw wildly past Vizcaino covering, allowing Kendrick to score. Two errors were charged to Cairo, but Molina -- in the Angels' fashion -- executed properly in pushing the ball to the right side after he was unable to get a bunt down. "That was a great game to be a part of, especially after the way Lackey and Clemens pitched," Rodriguez said. "I was fortunate on that pitch to Jeter. I know how great a hitter he is; he's one of the greatest ballplayers in the game." A .438 hitter with runners in scoring position, second in the AL to Maggio Ordonez, Jeter had a chance to be a hero. Runners were at the corners, Cairo having singled and stolen second in front of a Johnny Damon walk. After Melky Cabrera, needing a fly ball to tie it, struck out, Jeter attacked a first-pitch fastball that caught more of the plate than K-Rod intended. "It was supposed to be down and away, and it was right in the middle," Rodriguez said. "The kind of hitter he is, you cannot make mistakes with him. Today I made one, and I was fortunate." The sure-handed Cabrera got there with his glove and beat Damon to the bag. It was another K-Rod fastball that Jeter had lined to right-center with a runner on third to end that 4-3 Angels victory on their first trip to the baseball shrine in the Bronx. Lackey, giving up two runs in eight strong innings, was the winner that day. To reach K-Rod this time, the Angels needed three innings of nearly perfect work by Scot Shields. The durable setup man, extending his scoreless stretch to 23 2/3 innings across 18 outings, held the Bombers to a single and a walk from the ninth through the 11th innings. Lackey clearly deserved the "W" that went to Rodriguez (2-2) on this occasion, meeting the challenge presented by a Texas legend. "It was fun, kind of toe-to-toe," Lackey said of the Clemens duel. "He pitched good, and I had it going on a little bit. The whole vibe of the place is fun. Your focus has to be sharp, because their lineup is so good." On Old-Timers' Day, a fitting occasion for a Clemens outing, Lackey was closer to an explosive device than The Rocket. Clemens leaves the red glare to others at 44. While Clemens was coolly efficient, striking out three and walking one in giving up five hits, Lackey was lights-out. With a crackling curve behind a fastball with late life, the 6-foot-6 Texan equaled his career high with 11 strikeouts. He walked none, yielding five hits. The Yanks broke through first when Hideki Matsui doubled leading off the second, scoring on Bobby Abreu's one-out double. Abreu was held at third on a two-out single by Cairo as Reggie Willits charged and fired home, and he was left there when Damon grounded out. The Angels got even in the third, when Garret Anderson doubled, moved up on an infield out and scored on Jeff Mathis' ground ball that third baseman Alex Rodriguez -- 0-for-4 with three strikeouts after a huge Friday night -- couldn't handle cleanly. Angels manager Mike Scioscia praised Mathis for making contact against Clemens in a pressure at-bat, creating a contact play with Anderson taking off at the crack of the bat. "You have to shorten it up in that situation, and Jeff hit the ball hard," Scioscia said. "A-Rod had to come up clean to get Garret at home." Lackey's biggest challenge after escaping the second came in the seventh following Jorge Posada's leadoff double. Lackey fanned Abreu and Robinson Cano and then threw a perfect strike to Cabrera covering to nail Posada leaning too far off second. Seeking his 351st career win, Clemens allowed only one Angels batter to reach scoring position after Anderson's run. Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero each had two of the six hits off Clemens, while Posada had two of the five hits against Lackey. Cairo could have had three hits if not for two superb plays by Kendrick leading off innings. In the fifth, Kendrick bolted to his left to reach Cairo's shot fully extended, and he threw out the first baseman again in the eighth ranging far to his right, behind the bag, making an accurate throw. "Howie had a heckuva game," said Shields, always more at ease talking about the exploits of others. Like Kelvim Escobar, Shields easily could have been an All-Star this season with his league-high 20 holds and 1.70 ERA. His three innings on Saturday represented his longest outing since Sept. 16, 2004, when he also went three rounds in Seattle. "With Justin Speier out," Scioscia said, "Shieldsy at times has filled two roles. Today was an indication of that. He's been terrific the last four years. "You're not going to go [0-for-10] with runners in scoring position and beat a team like the Yankees very often. We were fortunate. "Pitching and defense won this game." Amazing how often that happens -- in spite of the public's love affair with the long ball.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.