On Tuesday night, Aaron Harang was the main reason.
The Cincinnati Reds’ ace outpitched Clemens and dominated the Astros for the third time this season, leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 2-0 victory.
Harang (11-6) allowed four hits and struck out six with one walk in eight innings. He held the Astros to five hits in victories on April 29 (6-3) and June 2 (14-3).
Harang won for the fourth time in seven starts, bouncing back after lasting just two innings against the New York Mets last week.
“I’m feeling good overall,” he said. “I’m executing my pitches, I’m able to hit my spots and I’m getting outs in key situations.”
The Reds beat the Astros for the sixth time in seven meetings. The defending NL champs also fell six games behind Cincinnati in the wild-card race.
“We’re getting to that deadline, to the point where we’re going to have to put some kind of streak together,” Clemens said.
The Astros wasted another solid effort by Clemens (2-4) the way they usually do—by failing to offer run support.
Clemens allowed seven hits and struck out four, but the Astros suffered their 11th shutout when he pitches since the start of last season.
Houston has mustered two runs or fewer in four of Clemens’ seven starts this year. In his four losses, the Astros haven’t scored a run before he’s left the game.
And the Astros can’t figure out why.
“For the last 18 months we’ve been asking ourselves that and we still have no answers,” slugger Lance Berkman said.
The Reds got the only run they needed in the first inning.
Adam Dunn, batting .324 since the All-Star break, singled sharply to center, stole second and went to third on Rich Aurilia’s single off Aubrey Huff’s glove. Scott Hatteberg followed with a single to center for his fifth RBI since the All-Star break.
Hatteberg went 3-for-4 after coming into the game 2-for-17 against Clemens.
“I faced him many times and my numbers are terrible,” Hatteberg said. “He’s changed a little bit. He’s not throwing quite as fast as he used to, but even if you give him an 85-mph fastball, he just knows how to pitch.”
A heads-up defensive play by catcher Brad Ausmus staved off another Reds rally in the second.
Royce Clayton led off with a double and got to third on Harang’s weak grounder that Clemens fielded from his knees.
Ryan Freel drew a two-out walk and bolted for second as Dunn batted. Ausmus faked a throw to second and caught Clayton leaning halfway down the third-base line. He chased Clayton back and tossed to Huff for the putout.
Harang, meanwhile, cruised through the first three innings, allowing only Mike Lamb’s harmless single in the first.
“It was an outstanding performance,” Cincinnati manager Jerry Narron said. “He did a really great job of throwing strikes.”
Lamb singled again in the fourth and Harang hit Huff with a pitch with one out. But Wilson hit a bat-shattering grounder to Aurilia at third to start a double play.
Scott doubled leading off the fifth, but the Astros still couldn’t score. Ausmus grounded out and Harang struck out Adam Everett, who fouled off a squeeze bunt during the at-bat. Everett properly executed a squeeze the last time Clemens pitched, scoring Wilson in a 4-2 win at Chicago last week.
Harang helped himself with his bat in the seventh.
Phillips led off with a double to the wall in left-center and went to third on Clayton’s groundout. Jason LaRue walked to bring up Harang, who was batting .163.
On a 2-1 pitch, Harang bunted down the first-base line and Lamb fielded it and threw to Biggio covering first. Phillips hesitated, then sprinted home, sliding headfirst to beat Biggio’s throw.
“It was planned that way,” Narron said. “They have to come up with a pretty good play to stop a runner like Phillips.”
Trever Miller replaced Clemens to open the eighth, ending Clemens’ longest outing of the season by innings. He threw 113 pitches, two shy of his season high.
The 43-year-old Clemens said he could’ve lasted longer, comparing his effort to his 107-pitch outing at Florida on July 14.
“My body feels great,” he said. “If I had to compare it to another start, it would’ve been that start in Miami, where I felt like I could’ve thrown forever.”
Everett led off the eighth with a double, but Harang retired Berkman and Biggio before fanning Lamb, prompting more boos and widespread dashes for the exits.
Berkman was out of the starting lineup after suffering a groin injury in Sunday’s win in New York. He pinch hit for Miller in the eighth and popped out. … Harang has made 67 straight starts with three or fewer walks. … The Reds improved to 35-10 when they score first.