NEW YORK - Roger Clemens walked slowly off the mound with his head hanging, snagged again by a balky hamstring in what could have been his last major league appearance.
After yet another October injury, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history might finally be finished.
Bothered by an ailing leg, Clemens left his Game 3 start Sunday night against Cleveland in the third inning with the Yankees trailing and on the brink of playoff elimination.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner got a pat on the chest from Alex Rodriguez before trudging toward the dugout. New York rallied to beat the Indians 8-4, but Clemens' status for the rest of the postseason - and his career, for that matter - is in doubt.
"I don't want to say it's heartbreaking because he wouldn't want me to say that. But the way he goes out there, he was very unhappy when we took him out," manager Joe Torre said. "Not the fact that, you know, he felt he could pitch more, it was just the fact that he was there to do a job and he was really upset that he had to leave."
Once in the dugout, the 45-year-old right-hander disappeared up the runway toward the clubhouse.
Clemens insisted he couldn't even think about whether it was the end of his career.
"I don't know," was about all he would say on the matter before limping slightly as he walked out of the clubhouse with his sons.
After the game, Torre said the Yankees are considering whether to replace Clemens on the first-round roster. They can do that under a new rule this year, but he wouldn't be eligible to pitch again until the World Series.
Who knows if he'd even be healthy by then?
"That's being talked about now," Torre said. "I guess we have to ask permission and stuff."
The hamstring started bothering Clemens when he broke for Kenny Lofton's bunt attempt.
"It activated in the second inning," he said. "Your concentration has to move to another level when you have a problem."
The Rocket put off retirement (again) with a rock-star introduction from owner George Steinbrenner's box at Yankee Stadium in early May.
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Clemens came back, with a contract that paid him $17.4 million, for just this type of situation - a chance to help the Yankees in October.
Turned out, they needed more than that. New York fell behind Cleveland 2-0 in their best-of-five playoff series before sending Clemens and his gimpy leg to the mound with the season on the line. It was his first outing since Sept. 16 and second since Sept. 3 because of a cranky elbow and sore left hamstring.
"Roger's got a lot of guts. He always has," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "He was trying to tough it out out there, and I think he took it about as far as he could go."
The Rocket worked out in Tampa, Fla., to get ready and pronounced himself fit just a few days ago. But he never looked comfortable on Sunday and was forced to leave early, just like his previous postseason appearance.
Pitching for his hometown Houston Astros, Clemens hobbled off the field after only two innings in Game 1 of the 2005 World Series against the Chicago White Sox with a strained left hamstring, the same injury that shelved him Sunday.
Clemens was ahead in the count 0-2 on Travis Hafner when Torre and a trainer came out to check on him. The Rocket stayed in the game and ended up walking Hafner, then went to a full count on slugger Victor Martinez.
With Torre perched on the top step of the dugout, Clemens threw one his best pitches of the night - a fastball right past Martinez for strike three.
But that was it, and Torre popped back out of the dugout to remove his starter. Rookie righty Phil Hughes was given as much time as he needed to warm up.
"I knew he had his hamstring wrapped after that inning before. And I guess when he went over for Kenny's bunt he felt it a little bit," Torre said.
Hughes tossed 3 2-3 scoreless innings for the win, striking out four and walking none.
Before he left, Clemens gave up a two-out RBI single to Ryan Garko in the first inning and a solo homer to personal nemesis Trot Nixon in the second.
After Hughes came in, he threw a wild pitch before allowing an RBI double to Jhonny Peralta that put Cleveland up 3-0 in the third.
Clemens was hurt by shortstop Derek Jeter's bad throw in the first inning, though the play was scored a hit. He yielded three runs and four hits in 2 1-3 innings, with two walks and a strikeout.
Headed to the Hall of Fame, Clemens has 354 wins and two World Series titles. He ranks second on the career strikeout list with 4,672.
The Rocket went 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA for New York this season, striking out 68 in 99 innings.