Originally created 09/29/03

A break before playoffs: Rocket manages, Nomar watches soccer



Roger Clemens played manager and Nomar Garciaparra got a day off - to watch his soccer sweetie.

Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter and Andruw Jones made early exits and Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and Jason Giambi sat out all together.

A lot of stars took it easy as baseball paused for a breath Sunday on the final day of the regular season.

Now, bring on the playoffs and the pressure!

"We rested our regulars throughout the weekend and today was no different," Boston manager Grady Little said after a 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay. "Everything is in preparation for what we've got coming up."

The postseason starts Tuesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium when the Minnesota Twins take on New York. Later that day, the NL series start when Florida visits San Francisco and the Chicago Cubs play at Atlanta.

"I'm going to be an animal," said Josh Beckett, who will pitch the opener for the Marlins against Bonds & Co. "You'll see me overthrow a few pitches."

On Wednesday, Pedro Martinez and the wild card Red Sox play at Oakland in the other best-of-five AL series.

All of the matchups were set going into Sunday. The only thing at stake was home-field throughout the NL playoffs, and the Braves clinched it with a 5-2 win over Philadelphia in the final game at Veterans Stadium.

"We won, we got home field, it was a good day," Greg Maddux said after earning his 289th career victory.

Mike Lowell also had a good day. The All-Star third baseman returned to the Marlins' lineup after missing four weeks with a broken left hand and went 1-for-4 in a 4-0 win over the New York Mets.

Lowell will begin the series at Pacific Bell Park on the bench.

"I don't think it would be fair to Mike or the other 24 guys to stick Mike out there when he wasn't totally ready to play," manager Jack McKeon said. "He's still a little rusty, but he's coming along quickly."

Lowell said he understood McKeon's decision.

"I'm not at 100 percent," he said. "But I'm good enough to be able to contribute, I think."

A day after getting his 310th win, Clemens was busy. Yankees manager Joe Torre stepped aside and let the Rocket make all the moves.

Clemens, who plans to retire after this season, began by letting All-Star outfielder Bernie Williams take out the lineup card to the umpires.

"I don't know how long he's been here, but I guarantee he doesn't know the ground rules at Yankee Stadium," Clemens said.

Then in the eighth inning, Clemens walked to the mound and pulled David Wells, who earned his 200th win in a 3-1 victory over Baltimore.

"I knew he was manager for a day, but I didn't know how far they were going to take it," Wells said. "When he got to the line, I just started laughing. It's emotional. It's not every day that you get a 300-game winner coming out to take you out of a potential 200-win ballgame."

After the game, Clemens even sat in Torre's chair and met the media.

"Now I know why the skipper gets ulcers," he said. "I can't see myself doing this, but it was fun."

Garciaparra had a relaxing day away from the ballpark. The star shortstop got permission from the Red Sox to miss the finale at Tampa Bay and travel to Columbus, Ohio, to watch his fiance, Mia Hamm, at the Women's World Cup.

Hamm, the two-time world player of the year, sat out rather than risk an injury as the defending champion United States beat North Korea 3-0.

"I just know his attitude. He thinks it's a wonderful event," she said.