The Houston Astros are making a last-ditch effort to get back in the postseason and will have one of baseball’s all-time greats continuing that late-season push.
Houston manager Phil Garner announced after Thursday’s 6-5 win over the Cardinals that Clemens would start the home finale. One day earlier, Clemens tossed six scoreless innings in a 7-2 win over Cincinnati and tipped his cap to the crowd during a lengthy standing ovation that seemed to indicate it was the final home start for the future Hall of Famer.
“When they tell you you’re going to pitch on short rest, you have to manage your time and the amount of work in between,” Clemens said Friday. “So, we’re going for it.”
But the 44-year-old Clemens—a 348-game winner in his illustrious career— has not fared particularly well going on short rest. In 11 starts on three days’ rest or less, the right-hander is 6-4 with three complete games and a 4.74 ERA.
Clemens, who signed a $22 million contract for the rest of the season on May 31, is up for the challenge.
“It’s great,” he said Friday. “I have the opportunity to go to the mound again, trying to beat a team that’s headed to the playoffs. Who knows where we’ll stand? If we win tonight and win tomorrow, we can make it interesting. The season’s not over yet.”
Houston (76-78) rallied in the bottom of the ninth for another victory Saturday. Rookie Luke Scott hit his second homer of the a game, a three-run shot off rookie Tyler Johnson, to give the Astros a 7-4 win.
“Truthfully, I can’t really put it in words,” Scott said. “This is my first time to get a walk-off hit. I’m still way up there. I’m just walking on clouds.”
The surge means the Astros enter play just 4 1/2 games behind St. Louis (80-73) for the NL Central lead. Houston also is five games behind Philadelphia for the wild card, and will meet the Phillies on Monday in a makeup of a Sept. 4 rainout before closing the regular season with a pair of three-game sets at Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
St. Louis ends its regular season at home with a three-game series against NL West-leading San Diego and a four-game set versus Milwaukee
The Cardinals, losers of eight of their last nine on the road, still have a magic number of five to win the division for the third straight year.
“The only thing I’m worrying about is tomorrow’s game,” Cardinals infielder Scott Spiezio said. “I think the team’s focus is on each individual game. We don’t really look at how many games we have left or how many we’re up. So we just have to win tomorrow.”
The loss of closer Jason Isringhausen has not helped St. Louis—he has not pitched since Sept. 6, and will miss the remainder of the season with a hip injury. Braden Looper, who inherited the closer’s role, is 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA in his last two appearances.
To try to salvage the finale, Jeff Weaver (4-4, 5.27) will get the start for St. Louis. The right-hander, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels on July 5, is 4-1 with a 3.96 ERA in seven road starts with his new team.
Weaver last pitched at Milwaukee on Tuesday, and gave up two runs and five hits over six innings to earn the win in a 12-2 rout. He also had an RBI single.
“He inspired our guys, and they just kept cranking and cranking, and then we broke it open,” Caridnals manager Tony La Russa said. “I think our club followed his example. The key to our game was Jeff Weaver.”