HOUSTON (AP) -- With two World Series rings and plenty of
postseason experience over his 21-year career, Roger Clemens knows a lot about winning.
But the Houston Astros' furious push for the playoffs has left
even The Rocket at a loss for a comparison.
Clemens got his 326th win to tie Eddie Plank for 11th on the
career list, and the Astros hit four first-inning home runs to beat
the Cincinnati Reds 5-2 Wednesday and move into the NL wild-card
lead with their 12th straight win.
"I've been on clubs throughout my career who've won quite a few
in a row," Clemens said, "but I don't know if it's ever been like
this."Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio and Mike Lamb homered
in the first off Jose Acevedo (5-11), sending Houston on its
longest winning streak since taking 12 in a row from Sept. 3-14,
1999.Houston has won 20 of 23 since Aug. 15 for the best record in
the major leagues over that stretch."We're on a nice roll right now," Bagwell said. "It's kind of
been amazing to me, all the home runs we're hitting. I've never
seen it quite like this."The Astros moved a half-game ahead of the Chicago Cubs in the NL
wild-card race and tied Tampa Bay (June 9-22) for the longest win
streak in the major leagues this season. Cincinnati continued its
late-season swoon, losing for the 10th time in 12 games
Clemens (16-4) won his fourth straight start, allowing four hits
in seven innings. He gave up his only run in the first on Sean
Casey's sacrifice fly, and Cincinnati managed only three singles
over Clemens' next six innings. The Rocket finished with six
strikeouts and two walks."Give credit to the hitters. They've come alive and made it ...
easier for the pitchers," Clemens said.Chad Qualls, Mike Gallo and Russ Springer pitched in the eighth,
with D'Angelo Jimenez hitting an RBI single off Springer, and Brad
Lidge got three outs for his 21st save in 24 chances. With runners
at the corners and two outs, Lidge struck out Juan Castro to end
the game.Biggio hit a leadoff homer, and Bagwell and Berkman hit
consecutive drives with one out in the first. Jeff Kent walked, and
Lamb connected for a 5-1 lead.Acevedo lasted just one inning, and six relievers combined to
keep Houston scoreless the rest of the way: John Riedling, Phil
Norton, Ryan Wagner, Mike Matthews, Todd Van Poppel and Danny
Graves."We took a breather," quipped Houston manager Phil Garner.Acevedo, who's been shuttled back and forth from the bullpen
over the past three weeks, was sullen following what was easily his
worst outing of the season."I've got to find another way to pitch these guys," Acevedo
said. "It's like they knew what was coming. There's just not much
you can do against a team that's hitting like that."Reds slugger Adam Dunn was left awed by the Astros'
power-hitting display during the three-game sweep."It's not like these games have been close," Dunn said. "They
have been beating teams by touchdowns. This is the right time of
the year for them."Houston has beaten Cincinnati eight straight games, outscoring
the Reds 68-25 during that stretch.
Biggio extended his NL record of leadoff homers to 39. ...
Bagwell, who went 3-for-3, hit his 443rd career homer, moving past
Dave Kingman into 28th place. ... Lamb also had three hits. ...
Acevedo became the first Reds' pitcher to allow four homers in an
inning since Jeff Austin on May 28 last year. ... Berkman moved
from right to center field for the Astros in place of Carlos
Beltran, who was out of Wednesday's starting lineup with a bruised
right elbow. Beltran pinch hit in the eighth and grounded out.