Rocket's final blastoff
MIAMI -- To the rest of the world, Carl Pavano might be just a supporting actor in the drama of Roger Clemens' final start. But to the Florida Marlins, he is the starter of Game 4 of the World Series, and thus, for Wednesday night, their main man.
Pavano is not Clemens, but he is also no slouch. He was a 12-game winner for the Marlins in the regular season but was not a member of initial postseason rotation. He pitched well in relief, and then, when the Marlins switched rookie lefty Dontrelle Willis to the bullpen, Pavano was called upon to return to the rotation in the NL Championship Series. He worked well in a start against the Cubs and here he is again, part of the Marlins rotation, and in this case, also part of history.
The 12 victories represented a career high for the 27-year-old Pavano. He probably would have reached that level earlier in his career, but he spent substantial time on the disabled list three consecutive seasons from 1999-2001 with elbow and arm injuries. The key to his development at this point has probably been nothing more complicated than good health.
"He's healthy the whole year, that has helped," said Marlins manager Jack McKeon. "And he's been in a regular rotation all year, that's certainly given him more opportunities to go out there and work on his stuff, his control. He's had much better command than he's ever had, and I think that's because he's pitched a lot of innings.
"The guy is like any other pitcher. The more you pitch, the better you can get. He's finally found the groove on his breaking ball and his release point. I just think this guy has developed because he's had an opportunity to pitch a lot."
And now he has the opportunity to pitch in an epic contest, Clemens' farewell performance. Pavano grew up in Connecticut, so he was plenty familiar with Clemens' work with the Boston Red Sox at an early age.
And he became more familiar with it, after he was drafted by the Red Sox in 1994. "I was a young kid at the time when I was with Boston before I was traded to Montreal," Pavano said. "I had an opportunity to be in instructional ball, I think I was 19 or 20. The film that they showed all of us pitchers was his 20-strikeout game.
"To emulate something like that would be particularly impossible. I mean, maybe possible, but it was definitely something that at the age of 20, you're automatically in awe of that situation.
"But coming out (Wednesday night), thinking of those things isn't going to do me any good. I have to think of the game plan I'm going to bring to the field and stick to it."
And that is the key for Pavano. The last thing he needs to do is to get caught up in any part of the Clemens thing, no matter how big it is. But the good thing is, Pavano knows it.
"It sure is exciting, knowing who we're going against," Pavano said. "Not only Roger Clemens, but the Yankees. But this is the World Series. I play for the Marlins. I'm excited to pitch for this team tomorrow."
Pavano heard a number of Clemens questions Tuesday and showed that he had retained his sense of humor when he got one about pitching to Clemens.
"I haven't seen him that much," Pavano said. "I did see him last year, I think, get a couple of at-bats. He's obviously a good athlete. But he's not one of my concerns in that lineup."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.