Pirates 6, Astros 4

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HOUSTON (AP)—Looking at Daryle Ward’s paltry career numbers against Roger Clemens, Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon thought it would be a good idea to give his first baseman a game off.

McClendon called on Ward to pinch hit in the seventh inning and he grounded out to Clemens.

But Ward had better luck against closer Brad Lidge.

Ward hit a tiebreaking homer in the ninth, Jason Bay followed with a two-run shot and the Houston Astros’ bullpen blew another win for Clemens in a 6-4 loss to the Pirates on Wednesday night.

“He didn’t start because he’s had bad numbers against Roger,” McClendon said of Ward. “But Daryle’s been swinging the bat extremely well.”

Ward, who played with the Astros from 1998-2002, led off the ninth by sending Lidge’s 1-0 pitch deep into the right-field seats for a 4-3 lead.

Lidge (1-1) walked Matt Lawton on the next at-bat and struck out Tike Redman but gave up another homer to Bay. It was the first time Lidge failed to convert a save since Sept. 12, ending a streak of 13 straight saves.

“Obviously I didn’t have my best stuff,” said Lidge, sidelined for several days last week with pneumonia. “I need to buildup my arm strength and I need to figure out a way to get guys out when I don’t have my best stuff. I just don’t have zip on the ball right now.”

Salomon Torres (2-1) pitched two scoreless innings for the win, and Jose Mesa pitched the ninth for his 10th save in as many chances. Mesa has saved every win by the Pirates this season.

The Pirates closed their three-game series against the Astros with two straight wins—Pittsburgh has just four wins in the past 24 games in Houston.

“I don’t think anyone in baseball gave us a chance … to win this game with Roger Clemens pitching,” McClendon said. “I don’t know what the odds were in Las Vegas, but I bet they weren’t very good.”

The Astros now head on a seven-game trip to NL East leaders Atlanta and Florida. Houston has a road mark of 1-10, ahead of only Colorado (1-13) for worst in the majors.

Houston could be bolstered, however, by the return of All-Star outfielder Lance Berkman.

Berkman, who has missed a month while recovering from offseason knee surgery, will end his minor league rehab assignment and join the team in Atlanta on Thursday. Astros manager Phil Garner said Berkman could be activated from the disabled list before Friday’s game against the Braves.

Meanwhile, Clemens was denied in his fifth straight bid to win his 330th game, remaining tied with Steve Carlton for ninth place on the career. He allowed two runs and four hits with eight strikeouts and a season-high five walks.

The Rocket hasn’t won since his season-debut against Cincinnati on April 8, mostly because of an offense that has scored only nine runs with him on the mound this season. He drove in two of those in the win against the Reds.

“We haven’t scored enough runs for him. I don’t know why,” Astros shortstop Adam Everett said. “It’s just one of those things right now. We can’t seem to pull them across when he’s pitching.”

For a rare treat, the Astros gave Clemens an early cushion against Pittsburgh.

Mike Lamb, who last week moved into the lineup for struggling rookie outfielder Luke Scott, tripled in two runs in the first to give Houston a 2-0 lead. Craig Biggio added a RBI single in the third.

Pittsburgh rallied behind David Ross’ RBI double in the fourth and Matt Lawton’s run-scoring single in the seventh. Chad Qualls reliever to start the eighth, got into a bases-loaded jam and Lidge followed. On the next at-bat, Ross tied the game 3-all with a sacrifice fly.

“The only upsetting thing is our team is not getting wins,” said Clemens, just 1-1 despite a 1.29 ERA. “I’ve got enough wins beside my name.”

Notes

Ross tied a career high with two doubles. … Astros 1B Jeff Bagwell was out of the lineup with a sore right shoulder. He was replaced in the lineup with Jose Vizcaino. Bagwell is considered day to day. … Clemens has reached base in his last four plate appearances, including three hits. He’s batting .364 this season. … Houston has played its last 14 games against NL Central opponents. That streak ends at Atlanta on Thursday.

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