Astros 8, Pirates 6

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HOUSTON (AP)—Tiring with each pitch and feeling a twinge in his achy right calf, Roger Clemens was in need of some help in the seventh inning.

The Rocket got a timely lift from his teammates for his 325th career win and the surging Houston Astros won their season-high seventh consecutive game, 8-6 over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.

“I almost felt like it was two different games out there,” Clemens said. “I was out there looking for a third wind.”

Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Beltran, Craig Biggio and Jose Vizcaino homered for Houston, which has won 10 of 11 and closed within 2 1/2 games of the Chicago Cubs, the NL wild-card leader.

Clemens (15-4), who won his third straight start, moved past Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton for sole possession of 12th place on the career wins list.

He took a 7-0 lead into the seventh inning but tired and wound up allowing four runs and six hits in 6 2-3 innings. The Rocket even added an run-scoring single in the sixth for his seventh RBI of the season, chasing Pittsburgh starter Oliver Perez (9-8).

“Roger’s a stud and he’ll let you know when he think he’s done,” said Astros bench coach John Tamargo, filling in for suspended manager Phil Garner. “He knows what he’s doing out there. If he’s tired, he’ll tell you.”

Jose Castillo hit a two-run single, and Bobby Hill and Jason Kendall hit run-scoring singles off the laboring Clemens. Russ Springer gave up a two-run triple to Jack Wilson that cut the Astros’ lead to 7-6.

“He might’ve gotten a little tired in the seventh,” said Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson, who went 1-for-4 with two RBIs. “In that inning, he was just a little off and we were able to take advantage of that.”

But Craig Wilson popped out to second for the final out of the inning, Dan Wheeler pitched a perfect eighth and Brad Lidge got three outs for his 19th save in 22 chances.

Clemens improved to 3-0 against the Pirates. He got plenty of help from the Astros’ offense, which has scored at least seven runs in its last seven games.

“I didn’t think I’d need that many runs,” Clemens said. “Turns out, it was very welcomed. They gave me a cushion I didn’t think I’d need at the time.”

Pittsburgh has lost six of its last eight games overall and dropped to 1-7 in Houston this season.

Solo homers by Vizcaino in the third and Beltran in the fourth put the Astros ahead 2-0. Biggio homered leading off the sixth, Beltran walked and Bagwell homered off the replica 19th century locomotive in left field, his 22nd homer of the season. Brad Ausmus hit a sacrifice fly, and Clemens’ single made it 7-0.

After Pittsburgh closed within a run, Lance Berkman had an RBI single off Josh Grabow in the bottom half.

Perez had his worst outing of the season, allowing seven runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings. The 23-year-old left-hander hadn’t given up more than three runs in 15 starts since June 10.

He struck out seven, leaving him two shy of becoming the second pitcher in the 118-year history of the Pirates to reach 200.

“People think he’s superhuman, but he’s very, very young and he has no experience,” Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Tonight he didn’t have his stuff.”

Perez also made a terrific defensive play in the third, deflecting Ausmus’ liner to the mound off his glove and frantically diving to the ground to catch the carom. Flat on his stomach, Perez flipped the ball to first to complete the double play.

After both teams finally realized the inning was over, Perez sat on the ground in an apparent daze before being helped to his feet by a couple of teammates.

“I just saw the ball and it was a reaction,” Perez said. “It was a surprise to me, too. I just reacted.”

Said Pirates teammate Jack Wilson: “That’s one of the best plays I’ve ever seen a pitcher make. First it’s amazing that he was able to get a glove on it. And then to go on and make the play was pretty impressive.”

Right fielder Rob Mackowiak robbed Beltran of a homer in the first, leaping high to snatch away the ball just as it reached the fence.

Notes

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, threw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of the Astros’ Military Appreciation Night. Myers was invited to Houston by former high school classmate Alan Hendricks, who along with his brother Randy represents Clemens. … Garner served his one-game suspension Friday, watching the game in the clubhouse while running on a treadmill. “I got nervous,” he said. “Once I get involved, I’m a nervous wreck.” … The Astros had their 20th sellout of the season.

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