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Clemens helped Astros' pitch for Tanaka

Source: Club offered Japanese star deal worth more than $100 million

HOUSTON -- The Astros pulled out the big guns -- or the man known as The Rocket, anyway -- during their pitch to try to land the services of Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Wednesday the club made an offer to Tanaka after flying seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and owner Jim Crane to Los Angeles two weeks ago to meet with the pitcher at a private home.

"We did make an offer and were involved," said Luhnow, who also attended the Jan. 8 meeting.

Luhnow wouldn't say how much Houston offered Tanaka, but a source told it was more than $100 million. Tanaka reached an agreement with the Yankees on Wednesday for seven years and $155 million.

"They called me and said they were going to make the posting fee on him and asked me if I would go with them," Clemens said. "And when my hometown team asks me to participate in something like that to help them get better, I'm going to do it."

The Astros, who are coming off a 111-loss season, were probably a long shot to land Tanaka, but that didn't stop Houston from making what Clemens said was a strong sales pitch. The Astros were the first team to meet with Tanaka.

Clemens, who serves as an adviser to Luhnow, said they presented Tanaka with an Astros jersey with his name on the back, as well as a 2005 World Series ball. Clemens and Tanaka struck up a strong rapport, in part because Clemens knew Tanaka's interpreter from his time with the Yanks.

"He had just gotten off a plane from Japan and had showered and cleaned up, and we were the first ones out of the gate," Clemens said. "He was excited we were all there. ... Knowing the seven or eight teams that were going to be bidding on him -- maybe a bigger-market team, if you will -- Mr. Crane and Jeff made a fantastic impression on him, and we captured his attention in a big way and let him know the Astros were serious. They made a great presentation, not only about our ballclub, but our city. I think it went well."

Clemens said the Astros tried to sell Tanaka on the positives of being the ace of a young rotation without the pressure of winning right away, as well as marketing the large number of games the team plays on the West Coast as part of the American League West.

"With him coming to Houston, not only could he be the star and leading the pitching staff with the type of credentials he has, but he wouldn't be expected to be the man [right away]," Clemens said. "He might be able to work his way in and get acclimated to the situation here. ... You could afford him that luxury, even though I'd like to see him get on the mound and win 20 games. "

Tanaka asked Clemens about the routine he employed to pitch every five days, which will be an adjustment from pitching once per week in Japan. Clemens even showed Tanaka some photos of his mechanics and talked about the split-fingered fastball.

"It was a great weapon for me late in my career, and hopefully that will be the case for him," Clemens said. "He listened very closely, and at the very end, he had several questions for us."

Tanaka, 25, went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season, pitching the team to a Japan Series title. The total value of the contract is the fifth-highest for a pitcher in Major League history, and the Yankees owe a $20 million posting fee to Rakuten under the terms of baseball's revised posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball.

Tanaka's first start for the Yanks will likely come at Minute Maid Park in April when New York opens the season with three games in Houston.

"I played in the AL East, and you have to show up," Clemens said. "I know how many innings he's had as a high school player and as a professional Japanese pitcher and how taxing that is. He's going to be expected to step on that mound at Yankee Stadium and win right away and get those guys back on track."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
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