Houston (84-70) at Chicago (76-78)

  • Game info: 2:20 pm EDT Sat Sep 24, 2005
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Houston Astros’ wild-card lead is down to one game, and Roger Clemens won’t be able to help them defend it as they continue a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Clemens, who leads the majors with a 1.89 ERA, will miss his start Saturday because of a sore left hamstring, forcing the Astros to give the ball to rookie Ezequiel Astacio.

Clemens tweaked the hamstring in his Sept. 3 start against St. Louis, and has gone 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts this month while trying to pitch through the injury. He is listed as day-to-day, but Astros manager Phil Garner said he doesn’t expect him to miss any other starts.

“He needs to take the start (off),” Garner said after the Astros’ 5-4 loss to the Cubs on Friday. “It is what it is.”

The 43-year-old right-hander didn’t have an ERA higher than 1.97 in any of the previous five months of this season.

Astacio is 2-6 with a 5.76 ERA in 21 appearances, including 13 starts, this year. He has not started since helping the Astros to a 6-5 win over NL Central champion St. Louis on Sept. 2, when he allowed three runs and eight hits over 5 1-3 innings.

“We just need a good performance,” Garner said. “Nine shutout innings would be nice.”

Ryan Dempster got his 30th save and Nomar Garciaparra drove in a pair of runs Friday for the spoiler Cubs, who handed the Astros just their second loss in the last 10 games.

Philadelphia rallied for an 11-10 victory over Cincinnati on Friday, cutting the Astros’ two-game lead in half.

“We weren’t going to win the rest of them,” said Houston’s Lance Berkman, who went 2-for-5 with an RBI on Friday.

“Nobody expected us to go 9-0 over the last nine games. It would have been nice, but these guys are getting paid to play, just like we are. They’re a tough team. We certainly have our hands full. We just have to regroup and come back.”

Carlos Zambrano will take the hill for Chicago. The right-hander is 8-1 with a 2.36 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break.

Zambrano faced Houston on Aug. 17, giving up one earned run on three hits over 8 1-3 innings of a 4-2 victory. He struck out 10.

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Starting Pitchers

E. Astacio CHC vs. C. Zambrano PHI
3-6 Record 14-6
5.67 ERA 3.26
66 K 202
25 BB 86
1.54 WHIP 1.15