Clemens suffers a familiar fate
Astros again fail to back ace in losing to Reds
By BRIAN MCTAGGART
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
The Astros' 100th game of the season was like so many of their previous 99, especially the handful in which Roger Clemens has been the starting pitcher.
For the fourth time in Clemens' seven starts, the fading Astros failed to score any runs while he was on the mound
, falling 2-0 to the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
When asked by a reporter following the game if the lack of run support was "weird," Clemens responded: "I guess that's one word for it."
Clemens continued to defy age with another quality start, but the Astros continued to defy logic by getting shut out for the eighth time this year, including two in games Clemens has started.
"It defies explanation," said Astros manager Phil Garner, whose team was 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. "I think our guys are trying so hard now that it's probably working the other way."
The Astros, who lost for the sixth time in seven games to the Reds
, have dropped 10 of 13 games to slip six games behind Cincinnati in the National League wild-card chase.
"The urgency's here," Clemens said. "I'm really concerned about how I'm doing individually, but it's time that we put a streak together pretty quick or we're going to get way behind the eight ball and have to pull some magic out like we did the last couple of years. We have to win some series, that's for sure."
Stellar on road
Clemens (2-4) allowed seven hits and two runs in seven innings, but Reds starter Aaron Harang (11-6) threw eight scoreless innings to improve to 3-0 against the Astros this season while lowering his road ERA to 2.16.
Harang was ahead in the count all game and used both sides of the plate well.
"Aaron Harang has pitched very well against us and has got very good stuff," Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said. "In my opinion, he's probably the most underrated pitcher in the National League. He's tough on both righties and lefties with an A-plus slider. We knew one run would make a difference, and when they got that second run it sort of sealed it off."
The Astros had the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth. Reds reliever Todd Coffey gave up two-out singles to Preston Wilson and Luke Scott and was replaced by Bill Bray, who got Eric Bruntlett to fly out to center for his first major league save. Closer Eddie Guardado, acquired from Seattle this month, was unavailable because of a stiff forearm.
"We can still have a strong homestand and be right back in it," Ausmus said. "The wild card is far from out of reach, and we've been in this position before. We can't stand on our heels too long."
The Reds pushed a run across in the first on the strength of three singles, including Scott Hatteberg's two-out line drive up the middle that scored Adam Dunn.
Touched in 7th
Clemens cruised through the third, fourth, fifth and sixth before Brandon Phillips led off the seventh with a double. He scored from third with one out when Harang put down a sacrifice bunt, and Phillips made a late break for the plate on the throw to first.
The Astros couldn't take advantage of their few chances against Harang.
With runners at first and second and one out in the fourth, Wilson hit into a double play.
"Preston hit the ball good with a couple of guys on base, and they made a couple of nice plays on the catch and turning the double play
," Garner said.
Scott (2-for-4) led off the fifth with a double and was at third with one out when Adam Everett failed to get a suicide squeeze bunt down. Everett eventually struck out and, after Clemens walked on four pitches, Biggio lined out on a nice play by Phillips
"It was a frustrating night," Biggio said.
Lance Berkman, held out of the lineup with a strained groin, pinch-hit in the eighth with a runner at second and no outs and popped out to shortstop. Biggio and Mike Lamb couldn't deliver behind him.
"It was a good pitch to hit," Berkman said. "It was a better pitch than I thought he was going to throw 3-2. He was trying to bury that slider, and he ended up hanging it a little bit, probably almost too much. I just got underneath it."