Chicago (79-81) at Houston (87-73)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX, US
Temp: 71° F
  • Game info: 4:05 pm EDT Sat Oct 1, 2005
  • TV: FOX
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Houston Astros are counting on Roger Clemens to pitch them back into the playoffs.

Recovering from a hamstring injury, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner hopes to increase the Astros’ chances of earning the NL wild card as they continue a regular season-ending three-game series with the visiting Chicago Cubs.

Houston’s wild-card lead over Philadelphia is down to one game after Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Cubs, coupled with the Phillies’ 4-3 win at Washington.

After Lance Berkman hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning, Astros closer Brad Lidge blew his first save in more than three months, allowing two runs and four hits in the ninth.

Enter the Rocket, who skipped his last scheduled start because of a sore left hamstring that has bothered him all month. The 43-year-old right-hander, who leads the majors with a 1.89 ERA, is 1-4 in his last eight starts. The victory during that stretch was Sept. 14 against Florida, when he pitched into the seventh inning on the same day his mother died.

In his only start since, Clemens gave up 11 hits in 5 2-3 innings Sept. 19 at Pittsburgh, the most hits he has allowed since 1999 with the New York Yankees. The Pirates won 7-0, the ninth time this season the Astros were shut out in a game Clemens started.

“The stuff I had that day wasn’t going to get it done, so I need to be a little sharper than that. Hopefully, I’m past this,” he said. “I’m doing the exercises to keep it strong and well.”

Clemens was scratched from his scheduled start Friday in Chicago, then given a couple of extra days before starting again.

The time off allowed the Astros to set up their rotation for the playoffs, if they make it. Andy Pettitte, Clemens and Roy Oswalt would pitch the first three games of the NL division series.

When asked if he thought he was fully healthy, Clemens said he wouldn’t know until he got on the mound in a game.

“I need to be out there and be in a live, intense situation to test my leg again,” he said. “If not, I’ll deal with it. I’ve been dealing with it three or four starts. It just makes my starts a little less crisp and not as sharp. I’ll go with what I have.”

Jerome Williams, who beat the Astros 3-2 on Sunday, will counter for the Cubs, looking to win back-to-back starts for just the second time this season.

Against Houston, he allowed two runs and four hits in seven innings, walking a season-high six and striking out three.

The win gave Williams a 1-1 record with a 4.74 ERA in three career starts against the Astros.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Williams STL vs. R. Clemens NYY
6-10 Record 13-8
4.26 ERA 1.87
70 K 185
49 BB 62
1.37 WHIP 1.01