Astros 8, Giants 1

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—From his frosted-blond hair to his stunning statistics, Roger Clemens refuses to act his age. He’s having more fun than he ever imagined with the Houston Astros—and the 43-year-old ace got another thrill watching his teammates ensure his latest win.

Clemens won his fourth straight start with another dominant road performance, and Jason Lane’s three-run homer capped the Astros’ eighth-inning rally for an 8-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.

Clemens (11-4) earned his 339th career win and lowered the majors’ tiniest ERA to 1.38 with seven outstanding innings in the first appearance of his career in San Francisco. He allowed an unearned run in the first, but didn’t let another runner reach third base while improving to 7-1 with a 1.19 ERA in his last 11 starts.

But after Clemens left for a pinch-hitter in the eighth with the score tied at 1, he led the cheers for Houston’s impressive two-out rally against Scott Eyre (2-2), starting with Chris Burke’s gritty plate appearance and ending with Lane’s homer.

“That type of game is the best to be a part of,” Clemens said. “That’s why you come back to pitch. You have to work for everything in a game like that. To watch the hitters persevere at the end was tremendous. One guy fed off the next. It ended up turning into something of a laugher, and that game was anything but.”

The seven-time Cy Young award winner gave up six hits and two walks while striking out four. He has allowed just three earned runs in 73 innings on the road this season for a 0.38 ERA—the lowest for a pitcher through his first 11 road starts since at least 1961, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

These are absurd numbers for a pitcher who briefly retired two years ago and nearly did again after last season, but Clemens hasn’t slowed down. He has allowed more than two earned runs just twice all season.

“He has pitched absolutely brilliant baseball,” Houston manager Phil Garner said. “He should not have lost a game this year, basically.”

Journeyman right-hander Brian Cooper matched Clemens, pitching seven innings of four-hit ball in his first appearance of the season for the Giants, but the Astros avoided a series sweep in the eighth.

After fighting off a 1-2 count, Burke and Lance Berkman hit back-to-back doubles, with Burke scoring easily on Berkman’s drive off the right-field wall. After Morgan Ensberg walked, Lane hit his 17th homer of the season to left-center.

Willy Taveras added a two-run single in the ninth for the Astros, who snapped a three-game losing streak that briefly slowed their climb to the top of the NL wild card standings. The Giants beat Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte in the first two games of the series.

“Teams were playing us tough anyway, but maybe more so after we got back in the race,” Clemens said. “The guys persevered, and this makes that trip back home a whole lot easier.”

The Giants purchased Cooper’s contract from Triple-A Fresno before the game so he could make an emergency start in place of Brett Tomko, who has a bruised foot, and Kirk Rueter, who went on the disabled list with gout in his right big toe.

Cooper pitched for the Angels and Toronto earlier in his career, and made five appearances with the Giants early last year. He was just 6-7 in Fresno this season, but Cooper had little trouble with the Astros’ power-packed lineup.

By the fourth inning, the sellout crowd was singing “Cooop!” each time Cooper left the field. Cooper even got his first major league hit in the third inning, a solid single to center against Clemens.

“For the first time in my career last night, I started thinking more about the (opposing) pitcher than the hitters,” Cooper said. “That man deserves a lot of respect.”

The Astros scored in the first inning when Burke doubled and came home on Lane’s double. Cooper also threw six straight balls in that inning, causing grumbling in the stands—but he suddenly became unhittable, retiring nine of the next 10 batters.

The Giants tied it in the bottom half of the first when Randy Winn doubled down the right-field line, advanced to third on Lane’s error and scored on Pedro Feliz’s grounder.

Neither team got another runner to third base until Burke’s eighth-inning double. Eyre thought he had struck out Burke on a 1-2 pitch earlier in the at-bat, and the reliever yelled at home plate umpire Tony Randazzo when he left the field moments later.

“I have no problems with the umpires,” Eyre said. “I should have come back with good pitches after that, and I didn’t.”

Notes

Clemens now has pitched in every major league park except Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. … San Francisco RF Jason Ellison made a spectacular diving catch in the fifth inning to rob Brad Ausmus of a hit. Ellison then doubled Adam Everett off first base for a double play. … Omar Vizquel and J.T. Snow got the day off to rest up before the start of the Giants’ season-long 13-game road trip.

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