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Clemens pitches well, then blasts off

HOUSTON (AP) -- Roger Clemens walked into the clubhouse still
clutching a bat Tuesday night, the anger within him slowly bubbling
to the surface. Far from being a winning pitcher, Clemens was
mostly a disgruntled dad.

"It's very scary that it could come to this," Clemens said,
trying hard to restrain himself. "A lot of people owe my family an
apology."

Clemens pitched seven strong innings on the eve of his 42nd
birthday in the Astros' 3-2 win over Atlanta, but he was clearly in
no celebratory mood as he publicly addressed his ejection Saturday
from his 10-year-old son's youth league game in Craig, Colo., for
the first time.

After his son was called out in a close play, Clemens was
banished to the parking lot after an umpire accused him of spitting
a sunflower seed at him.

The Rocket had apparently been waiting for days to tell his side
of the story, making his postgame comments from the coaches' room
of the clubhouse instead of the usual spot in front of his locker.

Clemens started out calmly, even joking with reporters about the
ejection at first. But he grew more exasperated with each question,
finally going on a five-minute tirade.

"I guess I'm a champion seed-spitter," Clemens said. "I was
probably a good 20 yards from the field. I've been able to see ...
comments like I was nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe and arguing. I was
sitting on a bucket talking to fans and signing in between."

He denied even being tossed from the game, saying that he went
to the car -- as he always does -- toward the end of the game.

"When a guy just blatantly lies about a situation that is so
hurtful," Clemens said. "I guess I am so disappointed in the
media because I was only a phone call away. Anyone could have
followed up on the story with me or my agents. It was reckless."

Clemens' postgame fury overshadowed another impressive outing on
the mound Tuesday night.

He allowed four hits in seven strong innings, leaving with a 2-1
lead after walking the first two batters in the eighth. Dan Miceli
(4-5) retired Charles Thomas on a forceout, then loaded the bases
with a walk to Marcus Giles and allowed an RBI grounder to Chipper
Jones.

Miceli reloaded the bases with a walk to Johnny Estrada, then
struck out Adam LaRoche to end the threat.

Clemens, who struck out six and walked three, remained at 322
victories, two behind Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton for 12th place on
the career list. He gave up two runs, just one of them earned.

"It's one of his best outings that I've seen," manager Phil
Garner said.

The Rocket, whose birthday in Wednesday, is 2-0 in four starts
since the All-Star game, when he gave up six first-inning runs
before his hometown fans in the NL's 9-4 loss.

"I haven't seen him in awhile," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox
said, "and it's OK with me if I don't see him anymore."

Houston went back ahead in the bottom half off Chris Reitsma
(4-3). Morgan Ensberg doubled, Mike Lamb had a pinch-hit single and
Jose Vizcaino hit an RBI grounder, with Lamb barreling into second
baseman Marcus Giles to prevent what would have been an
inning-ending double play.

"I just did my best to get down the line and take him out,"
Lamb said. "I'm not very fast. I just had to get to second."

Brad Lidge struck out the final three batters for his 12th save
in 14 chances.

The Astros (54-52) moved two games above .500 for the first time
since July 9, when they were 44-42.

Atlanta's Russ Ortiz gave up two runs and seven hits in seven
innings. He's 6-0 in his last eight starts.

Andruw Jones' RBI single put Atlanta ahead in the second
following an error by Ensberg at third.

In the bottom of the inning, Jeff Bagwell doubled off the
right-center wall -- missing a home run by a few inches -- and
Ensberg followed with a run-scoring double to tie the game at 1-1.
Craig Biggio homered leading off the seventh.

"If you're going to lose, it's good to lose a good game like
this," Atlanta's Julio Franco said. "It's not like we were out
there falling down and making mistakes."

Game notes
Clemens had a leadoff single in the fifth, his seventh hit
of the season in 46 at-bats. ... Bagwell was back in the starting
lineup after missing two straight games for the first time since
May 1998, when he was on the 15-day DL with a severe knee
laceration.