Roger Clemens is the first one to admit it: With all of two short starts for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters under his belt, he isn’t ready to pitch in the major leagues this year. 

After making his second appearance for the Skeeters Friday night, Clemens said of playing for the Astros, “At this point I don’t see that happening.” His body, and his recovery time, was not where they would have to be, he further explained. 

But as David Barron and Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle reported, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is still feeding the rumors:

Crane’s comments came Monday at Minute Maid Park before the Cubs-Astros game. Asked about the possibility that Clemens could pitch this year with the Astros, Crane replied, “That’s still up in the air. We certainly would take a call from Roger.”

And now we pause to note another Barron story, on the weekend’s sports TV ratings. He reported that the Astros game against the Reds on Sunday, which went head-to-head with the Houston Texans’ season opener, might be the least-watched televised game in team history, with an average audience of 1,092 households. Let that number sink in, then consider this: More Fox Sports Southwest viewers in Houston watched the Rice-Kansas game Saturday.

With this in mind, it’s fair to ask, would one night of publicity, circus or no circus, be such a bad thing for the struggling baseball club?

But here’s the catch: Crane and Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told the Chronicle that Clemens wouldn’t pitch in any games where the opposing team was fighting for a playoff spot.

“I do believe that maintaining the integrity of the playoffs is always high on our priority list,” said Luhnow, who also stressed that the team had no plans to change its pitching rotation. 

To which the Rocket, being the Rocket, essentially replied, Now just you wait a minute. I may not be pitching at an elite level, but you can bet that I’m not interested in pitching in a game that doesn’t count. (Never mind that they will not count for the Astros either way.)

Clemens expressed this in a text (presumably to de Jesus Ortiz, who was the Chron‘s primary baseball writer during the Rocket’s last go-round). The message read:

“If you were going to do it … wouldn’t you want to do it against a contender and knock the contender off? ☺ Nothing’s cooking, but if there was wouldn’t that be the only way to go?” 

(The Chronicle story actually includes the words, “After a smile symbol, the message continued.” But we thought we’d go the extra mile here on the Internet. Plus, did you notice Roger Clemens uses smileys?! LMFAO!)

And here’s the other catch: Crane specifically said that Clemens couldn’t face the Cardinals or the Pirates during Houston’s final homestand (and final home games in the National League), September 21-26.

That’s because St. Louis is currently one of the two NL wild card leaders, while the Pirates are just 2.5 games back for that same playoff spot.

That leaves the Cubs and and Phillies “who are not in playoff contention,” wrote Barron and Ortiz.

Except that Philadelphia, despite a sub-.500 record, is only five games back itself. That’s a half-game closer than the Cardinals were on September 10 of last year—and the Cards, of course, went on to the win both the wild card and the World Series.

While it’s unlikely Philadelphia will do the same, “the integrity of the playoffs” still demands that it be treated as a possibility. This means the only home games left for Clemens to appear in are tonight and tomorrow. Unless, that is, one or both of the Pirates or the Cardinals either get eliminated, or clinch a playoff spot before they come to Houston. 

So, as they like to say in baseball, “Wait ’til next year!” There is almost no doubt Clemens, who is still signed to a personal services contract with the team, will wear an Astros uniform during spring training next year. It might be as a part-time coach. Or it might as a player trying to make the roster. 

”I would have to get ready,” Clemens had said on Friday after pitching for the Skeeters. ”It would be fun. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do it next year.”