Clemens grinds out win over Cardinals

Monday, June 6, 2005

HOUSTON -- Already trailing 3-0 after the first inning, Roger Clemens sidled up to Astros manager Phil Garner in the dugout and warned him to get ready for a long afternoon.

Most days, that's an insurmountable deficit for the worst offense in the majors. On Sunday, Houston erased it by the second inning and finally gave their ace some run support.

Clemens won his 332nd game, Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane homered during a five-run first inning, and the Astros beat St. Louis 6-4.

"They've been getting beat up all over town," Clemens said of his usually punchless lineup. "They really picked me up today."

Willy Taveras had a career-high four hits and Lane went 2-for-3 with two RBIs to help Clemens (4-3) overcome some early struggles and outlast St. Louis lefty Mark Mulder, who lost his second straight after a seven-game winning streak.

Russ Springer and Dan Wheeler combined to pitch three scoreless innings. Brad Lidge got the final three outs for his 13th save in 15 chances, snapping Houston's five-game losing streak to the National League Central-leading Cardinals.

Clemens won despite enduring his worst outing of the season, allowing four runs on nine hits in five innings. He struck out four and walked one for his first victory since May 14 against San Francisco.

"Rocket wasn't what he has been. He struggled a little," Garner said. "But you're going to have games like that. This was a nice job of bouncing back."

This rematch between Clemens and Mulder had none of the pitching dominance from their duel on April 23, when Mulder fired a 10-inning, four-hitter in St. Louis' 1-0 win. Clemens also didn't allow a run that day, giving up four hits in seven innings.

This time, neither had much success on the mound.

David Eckstein had a leadoff walk, Jim Edmonds singled and Albert Pujols followed with a run-scoring single. With runners at second and third and one out, Mark Grudzielanek doubled in two more runs to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.

"I told Phil, 'It's going to be a grind,'" Clemens said, recalling his mid-inning chat with Garner. "I told him to take a couple of aspirin and let's go."

But Mulder quickly coughed up the lead to the Astros, who had scored only 18 runs in Clemens' previous 11 starts.

Taveras had a leadoff single, Chris Burke doubled and Craig Biggio scored Taveras on a sacrifice fly. Lance Berkman followed with an RBI on a fielders' choice that drove in Burke, who eluded the tag at home plate.

Ensberg then hit a towering 384-foot shot to left that gave Houston its first lead of the series, 4-3. Lane added to the lead with a solo homer, his first in a month.

"The homers killed me. They are what did me in," Mulder said. "I felt great in the bullpen. I just didn't do much of job from then on. I guess I lost it on the jog in."

The improbable offensive display from the Astros, last in the majors in scoring, even drew a standing ovation from the crowd of 34,009.

St. Louis chipped into the lead with Mulder's sacrifice fly in the second, but his struggles on the mound continued.

Lane had an RBI single in the third to put Houston up 6-4. Then Mulder started the fourth by walking Clemens and was chased from the game after a bunt by Taveras. Al Reyes entered and retired three straight batters to end the inning.

Mulder (7-3) tied a season high by allowing six runs on eight hits in three innings, his shortest outing of the year. He had one walk and failed to get a strikeout for the first time this season.

"He didn't have his great stuff," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He couldn't make his pitches and he paid the price. He made a lot of location mistakes."

Clemens, meanwhile, retired eight of nine batters before John Mabry singled to lead off the sixth. Clemens, who's been pitching through a minor groin strain, was then taken out for Springer.

He left the game, as usual, to a round of hearty applause.

"You notice we didn't get anything after the second," La Russa said. "That's why he's won over 300 games. He knows how to win when everything doesn't fall into place."

Taveras left at the start of the seventh inning with a strained left hamstring. He's considered day to day.

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