Clemens pitches Astros past D'backs

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HOUSTON (AP)—Roger Clemens finally got a little help from his teammates on offense. Not that he needed much against the reeling Arizona Diamondbacks.

Clemens struck out eight and allowed one run in seven innings and the Astros scored more than five runs for the 10th time in 11 games, sending Houston to a 6-1 win Wednesday night.

“Give our hitters all the credit,” Clemens said. “They really have been pushing hard and it’s nice to see it pay off. It made my job easy tonight.”

Clemens (12-3) bounced back nicely after tying a season high by giving up three homers in his loss to Milwaukee on Friday. He allowed only five hits and got his 322nd win, moving two behind Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton for 12th place on the career list.

The Rocket became the fourth pitcher in the majors to win at least 12 games this season.

Jeff Kent hit a two-run homer in the third and Jeff Bagwell followed with a solo shot on the next at-bat, giving the Astros a six-run lead that proved too much for the league’s fourth-worst offense.

“It’s nice to actually produce some runs for (Clemens),” said Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI. “We’ve been horrible to him. A lot of times we’ve only given him one or two runs. It was frustrating.”

Houston (51-50) moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Cincinnati (50-52) for third place in the NL Central, and climbed above .500 for the first time since July 10— before the All-Star break. The Astros, however, still trail division-leading St. Louis by 14 games.

Lance Berkman and Kent each had run-scoring singles in the first, and Ensberg doubled in Berkman to give Houston an early 3-0 lead.

Casey Fossum (2-10), making the first start of his career against Houston, struggled early against the Astros and never really recovered. The left-hander allowed six runs on nine hits in four innings, tying for his shortest outing of the season and most hits allowed.

He’s 0-4 in five starts since beating San Diego on July 1.

“I’m not discouraged about it,” Fossum said. “I’ll just throw this one way and try to work it out.”

Afterward, Arizona manager Al Pedrique expressed frustration at having to constantly address the trade rumors involving All-Star pitcher Randy Johnson and center fielder Steve Finley.

“Every day we hear the same thing. The trade rumors are going on and we just have to watch and see what happens,” Pedrique said. “It may be affecting us more than anybody else.”

Pedrique then made a comment that sounded as if Johnson was almost certainly headed elsewhere.

“It’s been a lot of fun watching him play,” he said. “He’s one of those guys that you will miss.”

Danny Bautista scored the Diamondbacks’ only run in the sixth, doubling to start the inning, taking third base on a wild pitch and scoring on Luis Gonzalez’s grounder to second.

Arizona had few chances to rally in their 16th loss in 17 games, as Clemens kept them battling all night.

The Diamondbacks loaded the bases in the second before Clemens intentionally walked Brett Mayne to face Fossum, who’s never had a major league hit in 23 at-bats. Fossum grounded out to second to end the inning.

“It’s tough to beat a guy like that anytime, but when he gets a lot of runs early, it makes it extra difficult,” Gonzalez said. “It puts a lot of burden on the hitters.”

Notes

Bagwell’s 434th homer moved him into a tie for 31st place all-time with Juan Gonzalez. … The Astros hit back-to-back homers for the third time this season. … Clemens faced Arizona for the first time during the regular season.

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