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Astacio stands in for Clemens, gets win over Cubs

CHICAGO (AP) -- Roger Clemens couldn't have done it much better.

Ezequiel Astacio, starting in place of the injured ace, allowed
four hits in six innings Saturday, and the Houston Astros increased
their lead in the NL wild-card race with an 8-3 victory over the
Chicago Cubs.

Craig Biggio matched his career high with his 24th homer, a solo
shot in the first inning, and drove in another run, and Lance
Berkman also homered. It was the ninth win in 11 games for Houston,
which extended its lead to two games over Philadelphia in the
wild-card race.

"I feel happy because I won, but more because the team won and
we needed to win," said Astacio, who got his first victory since
Aug. 3.

The Astros also moved five games ahead of Florida after the
Marlins' 6-1 loss at Atlanta.

"We've got to take care of our own business. If we don't do
that, we could be sitting at home in a few weeks," Biggio said.

Nomar Garciaparra hit a two-run homer for the Cubs, who were
officially eliminated with the loss. Carlos Zambrano (14-6) gave up
six runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings, snapping his career-best,
six-game winning streak.

"They're playing hard, we just didn't play good defense," Cubs
manager Dusty Baker said. "You can't give runs away in the major
leagues, even at the end of the season. You have to play to win
every day, and our defense didn't do that."

Astacio was tapped to start after Clemens was scratched Friday
with a sore left hamstring. Clemens, who won his record seventh Cy
Young Award last year at 42 and is leading the majors with a 1.89
ERA this season, has been bothered by the injury all month and the
Astros decided it would be better to give him some extra rest in
case they make the postseason.

Astacio (3-6) hadn't started since Sept. 2 and had pitched only
one inning in each of his last four outings, but he looked sharp
against Chicago.

"I didn't put any pressure on myself," Astacio said. "It had
been awhile since I started, so I was more calm on the mound. That
way I could stay there longer."

Astacio allowed three runs, struck out three and walked two. He
limited the Cubs to two hits and Corey Patterson's sac fly RBI
through the first five innings, retiring nine of 11 batters at one
point.

But the Cubs got to him in the sixth. Neifi Perez led off with a
single up the middle and one out later, Garciaparra sent the first
pitch he saw over the left-field fence and onto Waveland Avenue.
The homer was Garciaparra's eighth of the year, and pulled the Cubs
within 4-3.

The Astros put away the game with a three-run seventh, though,
getting some help from the elements. Willy Taveras led off with a
single and, one out later, scored on a triple by Morgan Ensberg. It
actually looked as if it would be a routine flyout, but rain had
started a few minutes earlier and Patterson slipped and fell on the
wet dirt when he backed up to make the catch.

The ball bounced in front of Patterson, allowing Taveras to
score and Ensberg to get to third. The game was halted shortly
after that for 1½ hours, but the Astros picked up where they left
off when it resumed. They loaded the bases with two walks off
reliever Will Ohman, scored one run on Jose Vizcaino's RBI single
and another on a wild pitch by Ohman.

"Astacio did a good job today. A real good job today," Astros
manager Phil Garner said. "Astacio kept them down and he kept us
in the ballgame, and then we broke it open. ... We've been saying
it all along, if we take care of business, we don't have to worry
about the other teams."

Game notes
Biggio also hit 24 homers last season. ... Ensberg and
Vizcaino each had a pair of RBI. ... Derrek Lee went 0-for-4, only
the eighth time in 36 games he's failed to get at least one hit.
... Astros manager Phil Garner said he doesn't expect Clemens to
miss any other starts, which would mean Clemens, Andy Pettitte and
Roy Oswalt are in line to start the last three games of the regular
season.