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Clemens rejoins Astros

HOUSTON — Roger Clemens is coming out of retirement for the third time, agreeing to a $22 million contract to pitch for the Houston Astros for the rest of 2006.

The 43-year-old Clemens, who will be entering his 23rd major league season, is agreeing first to a minor league contract that pays $322,000 over the five-month minor league season, and his first start is likely to be at Lexington, Ky., the Class A team where his oldest son, Koby, plays.

If all goes well, his second minor-league start would be June 11 at Double-A Corpus Christi, Texas, followed by a start June 16 at Triple-A Round Rock, Texas.

Clemens announced his return Wednesday at a news conference.

"The ball's in my court now," he said. "This was a difficult decision on my part in a number of situations. I have to now take the next step and get my body ready to come back, get effective, win games."

When he is added to the major league roster, he gets a one-year contract worth $22,000,022 — his uniform number is 22. Because he won't be playing the full season, he gets only a prorated percentage of that, which would come to about $12.25 million if he rejoins Houston in late June. The tentative goal is to have him start against the Minnesota Twins on June 22 — if he's put on the big league roster on that day, he would earn $12,632,307.

The Astros were 27-26 and 6 1/2 games behind the NL Central-leading Cardinals after Tuesday night's 6-3 victory over St. Louis.

Clemens pitched for the Astros last season and helped them reach the World Series for the first time. Houston, the New York Yankees, Boston and Texas all tried to lure Clemens to pitch this season.

Clemens last pitched competitively in the World Baseball Classic, where he beat South Africa for the United States in the first round and lost to Mexico 2-1 in the second on March 16.

In Detroit, New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said Tuesday that it made sense for Clemens to return to Houston.

"I'm not at all surprised," he said. "I didn't think that him coming back here was ever going to happen. Houston's just such a perfect fit for him — he lives there and Andy's on the team. That's why he came back before, and the circumstances haven't changed."

Texas owner Tom Hicks was told last week by the Hendricks brothers that the Rangers were out of consideration, GM Jon Daniels said.

"Tom got the call on Friday that we were no longer in the running for his services," Daniels said Tuesday. "The way we looked at it was, it would be an honor to be associated with him but we've continued to focus on the 25 guys here. It would have been nice, but we weren't planning on it from the get-go."

Clemens retired after the 2003 season, then changed his mind and joined his hometown Astros after former Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte left New York to sign with Houston.

Clemens won his seventh Cy Young Award in 2004, going 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA. He went 13-8 with a 1.87 ERA last year, winning the major league ERA title for the first time since 1990.

Clemens has a career record of 341-172 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,502 strikeouts, pitching for the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros. An 11-time All-Star and winner of the 1986 AL MVP Award, he is tied for eighth on the career wins list and is second in strikeouts behind Nolan Ryan (5,714).

AP Baseball Writers Ronald Blum and Ben Walker, AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis and AP freelance writers Dave Hogg in Detroit and Ken Sins in Arlington, Texas, contributed to this report.