Roger Clemens is about to turn 43, and his body is feeling it.
At least now his teammates are giving him good reason to battle through the pain.
Clemens will try to continue his run at an eighth Cy Young Award when he takes the mound for the red-hot Houston Astros in the opener of their three-game set against the Arizona Diamondbacks, another team that has climbed back into the playoff picture.
Looking to reach double digits in wins for the 11th consecutive season and 19th time in 20 years, Clemens will take the mound seeking his 338th victory. The right-hander, who turns 43 on Thursday, leads the majors with a 1.46 ERA— nearly a run better than any other pitcher who qualifies.
That number rose slightly following his last start despite another strong outing, and despite an ailing back. One day after suffering the injury at home, Clemens pitched seven effective innings to beat Philadelphia 3-2 on Wednesday.
“I’m an old horse,” said Clemens, who gave up more than one earned run for just the seventh time in 23 starts. “If it was one of those young guys, they’d have put him on the DL right then. They just give me some medication and tell me to go out.”
The Astros will do the same Tuesday as they’ll try to bounce back from just their second loss in 15 games. They missed out on sweeping a four-game series from the New York Mets with Sunday’s 9-4 loss, which ended their seven-game win streak.
Houston reached a season-high 15 games below .500 in late May, but has since gone 42-18 to take the lead in the NL wild-card race.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Clemens said. “Everybody is getting it done. We knew we had it. We need to keep pushing and see if we can ride this for a while like we did last year.”
The Astros used a 36-10 finish last season to win the wild card.
Arizona also has an opportunity to make the playoffs despite being three games below .500 because the slumping San Diego Padres have blown a big lead in the NL West.
Sunday’s 13-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs moved Arizona into a virtual tie with San Diego. Rookie catcher Chris Snyder hit two of the Diamondbacks’ season-high five homers, including his first career grand slam, and Luis Gonzalez added a pair of solo shots.
Arizona is 8-6 and has gained 6 1/2 games on San Diego since July 17.
“This was a good series for us,” Gonzalez said after the Diamondbacks won three of four games at Wrigley Field.
“We could have very easily taken all four. We have two months to go. We know where San Diego is, we know where the Dodgers are. We haven’t had a good run yet, this was a good start for us.”