But the Pirates looked like the sideshow in the circus that was Clemens' season debut. No disrespect to the veteran pitcher or a tough New York lineup, but the Pirates beat themselves on Saturday with a defense that couldn't back up its pitchers.
"You're not going to beat this team that way, playing like that," said a frustrated manager Jim Tracy afterward.
"That" referred to numerous defensive miscues, starting in the first and lingering through what at times seemed to be a painful game that lasted 3 hours, 17 minutes.
After a two-out, first-inning RBI single by Adam LaRoche gave the Pirates an early one-run lead, Pirates starter Paul Maholm gave the Yankees three in the bottom of the inning to get the sellout crowd rocking.
To Maholm's credit, however, his defense didn't help.
With one run already in, Derek Jeter scored when Ronny Paulino couldn't hold onto a throw from left fielder Jason Bay. Paulino had a chance to make what could have been an inning-ending tag but didn't appear ready to take the throw.
"I thought there was a chance for [Jose] Bautista to cut it, and as soon as I [saw] the ball go by him, I tried to cut it, but I missed," Paulino explained afterward.
Two batters later, Robinson Cano knocked in New York's third run of the inning with a single to left that shortstop Jack Wilson believes he could have stopped.
"It's just one of those things -- you have days where everything goes into your glove and days where everything is kicking off the sides," Wilson said. "That ball in the hole, I should at least knock down so they don't score."
Wilson tied the game in the fourth inning with a two-run double, but that would be the last high moment the Pirates would see on the afternoon.
The wheels got loose in the fifth when the Yankees took the lead, and they came rolling off in the sixth and seventh when New York tacked on four runs in a seemingly merciless fashion.
Four Yankees stolen bases in the sixth inning helped plate two runs before the Pirates looked lost in the field again in the seventh, which led to two runs off reliever Tony Armas.
With one out, Bay's throw missed the cutoff man, Paulino missed Bay's throw and the Yankees had another run.
One batter later, LaRoche opted to try to get an out at the plate off a ground ball hit by Johnny Damon. LaRoche's throw was late, and the Pirates didn't manage to get an out on the play.
"We gave them more than three outs in some innings, and when you do that against a type of club with that lineup, that's not going to do you too good," Tracy said. "You're putting yourself in harm's way when you give yourself extra hitters and extra outs."
Maholm took the loss, giving up five runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings. Afterward, he was frustrated by the extra chances the Yankees hitters got, not because of the defense, but because of his own effort.
"The walks," said Maholm, who matched his career high with five. "I thought I had gotten away from it, but that's the kind of thing that stays with you."
But to Maholm's defense, the left-hander hasn't been able to catch a break this season. Either the offense isn't scoring to support him -- he entered the game with a Major League-low average of 2.74 runs of support scored while he's on the mound -- or, as displayed on Saturday, the defense forces the left-hander to have to make extra pitches.
"Once you make your pitch, there's nothing you can do about it," said Maholm, who dropped to 2-9 on the season. "For some reason, I've gotten matched up against kind of the aces of the staff. And when you do, you're not going to get good run support and you're going to have to go out there and throw a good game and put up a bunch of zeros, and I haven't been able to do that."
As for Clemens, he pitched well enough to pick up the win, much to the delight of the Yankees crowd on hand. He allowed three runs in the outing and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound to a standing ovation after finishing off six innings of work with a strikeout of Ryan Doumit on his 108th and final pitch.
"I'm going to savor this moment," Clemens said afterward. "I'm excited about what I do. Emotions are always a part of my game."
The Pirates have lost all five Interleague games they have played against the Yankees -- all in New York -- and the losses have not been pretty.
There were the two blowout losses they suffered last season and the one that a bad umpiring call cost them. And now a valiant effort on Friday night seems long gone after a rough day at the park on Saturday.
"It's just one of those things," Wilson said. "They get all the big hits, they got the sac flies when they needed them, they got on base. That's what they do."
And that sure will make for a long afternoon at Yankee Stadium.