Clemens Wins 4th Straight for Astros

Friday, August 25th 2006, 10:14 pm
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Here's how confident the Houston Astros are in 44-year-old Roger Clemens. As soon as they scored a run against Pittsburgh, they knew they were in control.

Clemens _ yes, he's 44, though he's pitching like he is 24 _ limited Pittsburgh to one run over six innings to win his fourth in a row, extending his strong run of late-season pitching for a fast-fading team as the Astros beat the Pirates 5-1 Friday night.

Clemens (6-4) has pitched in the majors since 1984, but accomplished something he had never done before in 684 career starts by winning in Pittsburgh. Clemens' 347th career victory was his first there in two starts during a career that has been spent mostly in the American League.

Clemens has won in 34 major league parks, according to the Astros, and has gotten wins in his last two starts in parks where he had never won previously, Milwaukee's Miller Park and PNC Park. There are six current NL parks where he has not won, including Dodger Stadium.

``He's pitching this way almost every game,'' manager Phil Garner said of Clemens, who has permitted two earned runs or fewer in 11 of 13 starts. ``The surprise is when he gives up a run. It's amazing.''

Lance Berkman homered to the deepest part of PNC Park, a drive into the center-field seats at the 410-foot mark in the third inning for his 35th of the season. Brad Ausmus drove in a run and scored twice while reaching base four times and Jason Lane added a two-run homer, his 13th, in the ninth off Britt Reames.

``Lance hit the home run, then came in the tunnel and yelled, `There's your one run, make it hold up,' `` Clemens said. ``I said, `I appreciate it.' ``

The Pirates got that one run back, but no more in a game in which they never led or were tied.

``He does what he needs to do to stay on top,'' the Pirates' Jeromy Burnitz said. ``He pitched a great game.''

Big surprise there, huh?

``Any time you score a run with Roger, you feel you have a chance to win,'' Berkman said. ``We probably should have scored 10 runs, but we came up with five and that was good enough to win.''

Willy Taveras extended his hitting streak to 28 games with a single leading off the game. Taveras' streak is the longest in Astros history and is the second longest in the majors this season to Chase Utley's 35-game streak for the Phillies.

Clemens' fastball is about 7-to-8 miles per hour slower at 92-93 mph than it was in his prime and he struck out only two, but he repeatedly got keys outs to remain unbeaten in six starts since last losing 2-0 to Cincinnati on July 25.

``I saw 90-91 (mph) a lot, but that's tricky,'' Garner said. ``You've got to look and see where the bats are when they swing. A lot of guys don't have the ball in the meat of their swing, so his ball still has a lot of finish on it.''

Even if Clemens was too tired after six innings and 82 pitches to finish on a humid night.

``I felt I was pretty spent, and I let him (Garner) know that,'' Clemens said. ``It's all about making pitches, but I got a little tired and winded.''

Clemens is one of baseball's greatest all-time power pitchers _ he is second in career strikeouts with 4,566 _ but this was more about precise pitching than overpowering velocity.

``He continues to make good pitches, he doesn't beat himself and he gets tough when the game gets tough,'' Garner said. ``This game was an absolute must for us and he goes out and does a super job.''

Clemens stranded a runner on second by getting two weakly hit grounders from Chris Duffy and Joe Randa in the third, then worked out of a two-on, one-out jam an inning later by getting Ryan Doumit to ground into a double play.

The Pirates' only run off Clemens came on Xavier Nady's single in the fourth but, with runners on first and second and a run in, Clemens got Doumit to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Jose Castillo doubled to start the fifth for the Pirates' only extra base hit off Clemens, but the right-hander got out of the inning with two excellent defensive plays. He tagged out Castillo at the plate on a grounder and, later, knocked down Randa's grounder and, while off balance, shoveled an underhand throw to first baseman Mike Lamb to end the inning.

Notes: Russ Springer, Dan Wheeler and Brad Lidge followed Clemens with a scoreless inning each. ... Clemens is 6-1 in seven career starts against Pittsburgh, but his only previous start there was a 7-0 loss last Sept. 19. ... Pittsburgh had won three in a row. ... Houston has scored 30 runs in Clemens' last six starts after scoring 11 in his first seven.