Cubs 4, Astros 2

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CHICAGO (AP)—Roger Clemens was breezing and then suddenly he was out of the game, forced to leave after five brilliant innings because of a groin injury.

Without the Rocket, the Houston Astros couldn’t hold on, crumbling when closer Brad Lidge couldn’t find the plate as the Chicago Cubs rallied with four runs in the eighth for a 4-2 victory Tuesday night.

“It’s more than a mild strain, but I know my body and I didn’t tear it,” Clemens said. “I’m OK. It’s iced down and numb and we’ll start treating it tomorrow.”

Clemens had retired 10 straight batters before walking Enrique Wilson with two outs in the fifth.

Manager Phil Garner and a trainer then ran to the mound to talk with Clemens, who stayed in the game and got the final out of the inning.

“I think he’ll be OK for his next start,” Garner said after his team’s seventh straight loss dropped the Astros to 2-21 on the road this season.

Jeromy Burnitz hit a two-run single with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth off Lidge (1-2), who threw two wild pitches and walked two in blowing the save.

“No excuse. It was very frustrating for me to go out there and blow it for him,” Lidge said. “I just had trouble putting my slider in the strike zone.”

Clemens allowed two singles, walked one, struck out six, lowered his major league-best ERA to 1.19 and extended his scoreless streak on the road this season to 26 innings.

“We kind of caught a break when Roger left with an injury. That’s how we’re looking at it,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “He was throwing the ball very good.”

Chicago made it 2-1 in the eighth on a double by Jason Dubois and RBI single by pinch-hitter Todd Hollandsworth off Chad Qualls.

Lidge replaced Qualls and had control problems immediately, throwing a wild pitch to move Hollandsworth to second and then walking Jerry Hairston.

After getting Neifi Perez to hit into a short-to-third forceout, Lidge walked Derrek Lee to load the bases. Burnitz then sent a single to right to give the Cubs the lead. Lee later scored on Lidge’s second wild pitch of the inning.

“Everyone knows they’ve got a great staff from starters to relievers,” Burnitz said. “And obviously that guy (Lidge) is lights out usually.

“I’m glad he wasn’t on his game tonight. … When the guy is struggling with his breaking ball and throwing some wild pitches, I need to make sure if I swing the bat, it’s a good one.”

Michael Wuertz (3-2) got the win by striking out two with a runner at third in the eighth and Ryan Dempster pitched the ninth for his fourth save.

Clemens hardly looked 42 years old when he hustled off the mound in the third inning to snap Perez’s bunt and then threw him out at first from his knees.

Wearing short sleeves on a brisk 53-degree night and blowing on his right hand, the only hits Clemens allowed were a first-inning single to Perez and a single by Michael Barrett in the second.

Clemens said the groin began to first bother him in the third inning.

“Once I finished the fourth, (catcher) Brad (Ausmus) knew and I knew I had to locate and that 93, 94 mph wasn’t going to happen,” Clemens said.

“I made an adjustment and tried to get the fourth and the fifth over as quickly as possible.”

The struggling Astros, who had scored just 16 runs in Clemens’ previous nine starts, gave him a working margin with two runs in the fourth.

After Todd Self walked, Craig Biggio hit a fly ball that went over the leaping left fielder Dubois and into the ivy for a double.

One out later, Lee, the first baseman, fielded Mike Lamb’s chopper but his throw to the plate wasn’t in time to get Self, who made a nice slide around Barrett.

Morgan Ensberg then hit a comebacker to Sergio Mitre, but the Cubs couldn’t turn the double play as Ensberg beat the relay from Perez and the second run scored.

Notes

Mitre was called up from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday and the Cubs sent down OF Ben Grieve. Mitre gave up five hits and two runs in seven innings. … Cubs CF Corey Patterson was scratched from the lineup with a sore left wrist, an injury he got in a second-inning outfield collision with Burnitz on Monday night. … Clemens’ start was his fifth at Wrigley Field. He had three with the Astros last year, going 2-0, and lost an interleague start with the Yankees in 2003, a setback that at the time denied him his 300th victory.

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