Roger Clemens was a hard-working, disciplined athlete who transformed himself from a pudgy kid into one of baseball’s premiere pitchers and never would have turned to performance-enhancing drugs, his lead lawyer said Tuesday.

“Using steroids and taking the cheap way out was a total anathema to everything he stood for,” said Rusty Hardin, who is defending Clemens on charges that he lied to Congress when he denied using steroids, during the defense team’s opening statement.

“We’re here because he dared to say, ‘I did not do it,’” Hardin said. “He said it with every breath he’s had for the last four years.”

The defense team quickly tried to undermine the government’s key witness, Brian McNamee, a former strength coach who testified before Congress that he injected Clemens with the banned substances on several occasions.

Hardin portrayed McNamee as an unreliable opportunist who sought to profit from the downfall of the all-star pitcher, who played for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees among other teams.

He showed jurors a photo of McNamee before he appeared at the 2008 House hearing, wearing a tie with an advertisement for his company, and the cover of an autographical book McNamee hoped to sell.

In a map displayed in the courtroom, Hardin also said federal prosecutors had been unable to corroborate McNamee’s story despite hundreds of interviews by hundreds of law enforcement officials at 79 locations. McNamee has admitted to lying to authorities in an earlier criminal investigation.

The trial, Hardin said, would be a “tale of two men” that pits the word of Clemens against the word of McNamee.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Durham said in his opening statement Monday that Clemens took steroids to prolong his career, and then lied about it to protect his reputation. Clemens faces up to 30 years in prison on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of Congress.

During the course of Clemens’s 24-year career, his lawyer said Tuesday that the pitcher performed consistently before he met McNamee and after the period in which McNamee has said he was no longer injecting Clemens with steroids. Clemens won his first Cy Young award in 1986, and his seventh in 2004.

“If Roger Clemens supposedly took steroids to prolong his career, why in the world would he stop the last six years of his career?” Hardin said.

Hardin also sought to poke holes in evidence federal prosecutors showed jurors, including photos of a needle and cotton balls that Durham said contained Clemens’ DNA and traces of steroids.

McNamee saved those items, Hardin said, inside a used Miller Lite can that he kept in his basement. Experts for the defense team, Hardin said, would testify that McNamee could have manipulated the evidence.

Hardin showed jurors a photo of the crumpled beer can, surrounded by gauze, needles and cotton balls, and called the items “the most mixed up hodgepodge of garbage you could ever imagine. It is ludicrous to ever try to suggest that this is evidence of anything in a criminal case.”

More: Clemens trial coverage | Del on Twitter | Ann on Twitter