HOUSTON (AP)—Roger Clemens finally got some run support and won for the first time in his latest comeback.
“All in all, it was a good game,” Clemens said. “The guys hit the ball, and that was a lot of fun to see.”
The 43-year-old earned his 342nd career victory, his first since beating the Cubs 3-1 in the second-to-last game of the 2005 regular season.
The Astros still can’t pinpoint why they struggle to score when Clemens pitches.
“It’s not like we’re trying to get shut out,” Berkman said. “I guarantee you, if you take a poll of all the players in here, we don’t care who’s on the mound. We want to score runs every night.”
Clemens (1-2) was hardly perfect—he walked three, threw a wild pitch and gave up a home run to Jacque Jones—but he still allowed two runs or fewer for the 19th time in his last 23 starts. He left after throwing 115 pitches.
“I know I’m on the fast track,” Clemens said, “but I still expect certain results. I think that’s the hardest thing I’ve got going right now.”
The Astros failed to score in the 11 1-3 innings Clemens had pitched in his two starts since re-signing with the team on May 31. Houston was shut out nine times in 2005 when Clemens started.
Craig Biggio ended the threat of another blanking in his first at-bat, driving the first pitch from Cubs rookie Carlos Marmol (1-3) into the seats in left. It was Biggio’s 48th leadoff homer, which trails only Rickey Henderson (80) on the all-time list. Berkman added a solo homer in the first.
“It’s always nice to get a good start like that for someone we have had trouble scoring runs for,” Biggio said. “It’s hard to explain. It’s not from lack of trying. It’s just part of the game.”
Clemens made his first mistake in the second inning, when Jones pounded a 2-0 fastball just inside the foul pole in right in the second.
Jones walked in the fourth after battling Clemens for nine pitches. He stole second and went to third when Clemens threw a wild pitch, a split-fingered fastball that skidded past Astros catcher Brad Ausmus.
After a visit at the mound from pitching coach Jim Hickey, Ronny Cedeno grounded out on Clemens’ 37th pitch of the inning. Clemens had a similarly exhausting 38-pitch inning in his first start, a 4-2 loss to Minnesota and rookie ace Francisco Liriano on June 22.
“He scuffled a little bit, but he got through it,” said bench coach Cecil Cooper, who managed the team while Phil Garner served a one-game suspension.
Juan Pierre tripled off Clemens with one out in the fifth when Willy Taveras couldn’t make a diving catch in right-center. Clemens got out of the inning when Aramis Ramirez grounded out, but he shook his head in frustration as he walked back to the dugout.
The Cubs sensed Clemens didn’t have his top form.
“He was good, but he wasn’t Roger,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I can’t ever recall him throwing over 100 pitches in five innings. So he was not as sharp, but he made the pitches when he needed them.”
For a change, the Astros’ bats bailed him out.
With one out in the fifth, Mike Lamb doubled and Berkman was intentionally walked. Wilson then smacked a double to left, scoring Lamb.
Ausmus then grounded to Todd Walker to start what looked like an inning-ending double play, but Cedeno’s foot missed second base as he threw the relay to get Ausmus. Berkman scored on the play and Baker argued with umpire Mark Wegner. Replays showed that Cedeno’s foot missed the bag by several inches.
Biggio singled and Taveras was hit by a pitch in the sixth. Baker then brought in Will Ohman and Berkman blasted his fifth pitch into the seats in left.
“You never really want to mess with Berkman,” Baker said. “He’s one of the most dangerous men in this league.”
Berkman, the only Astro on next week’s NL All-Star roster, homered twice in the same game for the third time this season and the 17th time in his career. He has 24 homers for the season.
Berkman also homered from both sides of the plate in the same game for the second time this season. He also did it in San Francisco.
Pierre leads the Cubs with six triples. … Ten of Jones’ 15 homers this season are solo shots. … Clemens is tied for eighth on the all-time victories list with Tim Keefe. … Biggio’s sixth-inning single was his 2,876th hit, tying him with Mel Ott for 36th on the all-time list. … Ausmus is in an 0-for-36 slump, the longest streak by a non-pitcher in Astros history.