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APRoger Clemens took the mound in front of a sold-out crowd on Monday and pitched the Yankees to a much-needed win in a tight division race. The Rocket looked to be in fine form as he tossed six shutout innings, allowing only two hits and two walks while striking out six.

Oh, did I mention his effort was for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and not the New York Yankees? That the opponent was Toledo of the International League and not Toronto of the American League? That the Triple-A Yankees were only a couple of games behind their division leaders, as opposed to the big brother Yankees, who need the Hubble telescope to see first place?

Minor details there. Sorry about that.

Ironically enough, on the mound for the real Yankees was a guy who should have been pitching to Mud Hens instead of Blue Jays: Matt DeSalvo. The rookie failed to get out of the fifth inning, giving up three runs in 4 2/3 innings before making way for The Mandatory Luis Vizcaino Appearance. The result was predictable from there: A 7-2 Blue Jays runaway.

The loss, coupled with the Red Sox's 5-3 win over Cleveland, means the Yankees have dropped four games in the standings in four days since taking two of three from Boston last week. The deficit stands at 13 1/2 games at the end of play on Memorial Day.

But don't let the small matter of the Yankees' season going down in flames get in the way of what has become Clemens' annual little exercise in vanity. Much like he did a year ago while tuning up for the Astros, Clemens is making his tour of small-town America with much fanfare. Hey, who needs spring training when you can barnstorm the minor leagues in style, riding the Madden Cruiser to Trenton and being the center of attention of the Greater Scranton Area? (Make sure to take the bus tour of The Office landmarks before you go.)

Who cares that the Astros missed the playoffs by a mere 1 1/2 games last season, a deficit that wouldn't have existed if Clemens had pitched a full season, or that the Yankees have been using the baseball equivalent of cannon fodder in his absence?

The headlines on Tuesday will say that Rocket is ready to rejoin the Yankees and help spark what would be a historic comeback to the top of the AL East standings, or perhaps the wild card. We're supposed to be impressed by his domination of a Mud Hens lineup highlighted by Timo Perez and Chris Shelton. (Cpl. Klinger batted cleanup.)

The truth is that the air has been let out of this balloon already thanks to the fade job being done by Derek Jeter's boys up in The Show. What we're left with in Rocket's comeback is a glorified reunion tour at best, a sideshow at worst.

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