HOUSTON (AP)—Roger Clemens started the season with a win, more strikeouts and some more RBIs, too.
Putting off retirement again for another year, the Rocket allowed one run in seven innings and hit a tiebreaking, two-run single. With the Houston Astros’ 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night, Clemens tied Steve Carlton for ninth place with his 329th win.
“You’re watching a legend … that’s all there is to it,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “He never ceases to amaze me. You just know when he’s up there that he’s going to do it. You feel it in your bones.”
Clemens (1-0) got his 22nd season off to a rousing start, walking none and striking out nine, raising his career total to 4,326.
The 42-year-old right-hander, who had planned to retire after the 2003 season and again last winter, retired his first 11 batters until Sean Casey’s two-out liner to shallow center in the fourth. Clemens then fanned Austin Kearns.
Clemens gave up only five hits, including a fifth-inning homer by Joe Randa in the fifth that hit off the wall in left-center and went into the outfield concourse.
“I haven’t faced him in a couple of years, so it was a different challenge tonight,” said Randa, who played with the Kansas City Royals from 1995-96 and 1999-2004. “He’s added another pitch to keep you off balance and to get you out of there. I was just trying to be aggressive.”
Clemens got in a jam in the sixth, allowing consecutive singles to Ryan Freel and D’Angelo Jimenez. But with runners at the corners, Ken Griffey Jr. struck out swinging on a 3-2 fastball, and shortstop Adam Everett converted a nifty double play by throwing out Freel at home plate.
Clemens pumped his fist and pointed to Everett as the crowd went wild. He struck out Casey to end the inning.
“I thought it was a big momentum changer,” Reds manager Dave Miley said.
Almost as big as Clemens’ turn at the plate in the bottom half of the inning.
With the score 1-1 in the sixth and runners at second and third, Clemens hit a sharp grounder toward second base that shortstop Rich Aurilia scooped up. But Aurilia lost his grip on the ball while trying to make a throw, Clemens scooted to first base—losing his cap—as two runs scored on what was ruled a hit.
“It seemed like first base was running from me,” said Clemens, who at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds is far from a sprinter. “It was going to be one of those things where I was going to dive at first. It was just having the instincts to do it.”
The crowd of 36,382 came to its feet for a standing ovation as Clemens slowly walked back to the base, limping slightly.
“I feel real lucky just to be able to watch him,” Astros closer Brad Lidge said. “Whatever job needs to get done, he does. What can you say? He’s incredible”
Clemens came back in the seventh, getting two more strikeouts and inducing Aurilia to ground out to second. Chad Qualls, John Franco and Lidge followed, with Lidge getting four outs for his second save.
Matt Belisle (0-1) was the loser for Cincinnati, which left Milwaukee as the only remaining undefeated team in the majors.
Ramon Ortiz, who split time between Anaheim’s rotation and bullpen last season, allowed one run in a strong five-inning debut with the Reds. He gave up five hits, struck out six and walked three.
The Astros are one win shy from the longest winning streak in their series against the Reds. Houston won 10 straight over Cincinnati from April 9 to July 20, 2003. … The Reds faced their third former Cy Young Award winner in their first four games. Cincinnati played against Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine in their series against the Mets. … Up next on the wins list for Clemens is Tim Keefe at 343. … Kearns struck out four times.