Clemens, Astros down Reds, keep wild-card hope alive

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Astros' fans gave Roger Clemens a
warm send-off after the Rocket delivered one more performance to

Clemens pitched six scoreless innings in his final home start of
the season for win No. 348 to lead the Astros to a 7-2 win
over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.

The 44-year-old Clemens will have two more scheduled starts this
season -- and possibly forever -- at Philadelphia on Monday and at
Atlanta on Sept. 30.

Clemens won't say what he'll do beyond that.

"It's definitely a challenge physically and mentally every
year," he said. "If I commit to come back and play, I want to be
able to perform.

"I don't know what tomorrow brings -- but if this is it, I've
really enjoyed it."

The seven-time Cy Young winner is sure about one thing -- if he
ever starts to feel like he can no longer dominate, that's when
he'll retire for good.

"I can't handle being average," said Clemens, who lowered his
2006 ERA to 2.37. "I guess there's a time when you know and I
thought that was three years ago. But I had to come back and really
challenge myself to get it done."

Luke Scott had a three-run triple and a solo homer and Craig
Biggio hit a three-run homer as the Astros won for just the third
time in 10 games, a slide that has left them with fading hopes in
the wild-card race. The Astros are 5½ games behind the Los Angeles
Dodgers and Philadelphia, the NL wild-card leaders, with 11 games
left and also trail San Francisco and Florida.

Clemens (7-5) struck out six and allowed three hits with three
walks. He did not yield an earned run for the fourth time this
season and allowed fewer than three for the 15th time in 17 starts.

Before he threw his first pitch, catcher Brad Ausmus met him at
the mound and thanked him for a memorable 2½ seasons with the

"I personally hope that it isn't it," Ausmus said, "but
catching Roger has been a highlight of my career. He's the
ultimately prepared professional and certainly a first-ballot Hall
of Famer."

Clemens walked out for the seventh, but Astros manager Phil
Garner came out before he threw a pitch and replaced him with Russ

The fans stood for a roaring ovation and Clemens tipped his cap
as he walked off the field.

"He wasn't going to pitch anymore," Garner said, "but the way
things played out, everything came together for that moment. The
fans' reaction was unbelievable and Roger's reaction to that was
just as special."

The cheering continued and Clemens came out for a curtain call,
shirt untucked, pumping his fist in the air before disappearing
into the dugout.

"That's what it's been about since I've been home," he said.
"Obviously, winning and making it enjoyable for our fans at

Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (14-10) lost for first time in five
starts, giving up seven hits and striking out four in 5 1/3

The Reds have also slipped from view in the wild-card race,
remaining five behind the leaders.

Scott, who had a double, triple and home run in Tuesday's 5-4
loss to the Reds, hammered Arroyo's first pitch of the second
inning into the upper deck in right field. Scott's eighth homer of
the season was his fourth since Sept. 9.

Ausmus led off the Astros' fifth with a double of the left-field
wall and Clemens bunted him to third. With one out, Arroyo walked
Mike Lamb and hit Lance Berkman with a pitch to load the bases.

Scott, a 28-year-old rookie, then lined a 3-2 pitch into the
right-field corner, clearing the bases with his sixth triple.

Clemens struck out two Reds each in the second, third and fourth
and allowed two harmless singles through the first five innings.

"You look out there and you say, 'How's this guy still putting
up zeros?" said Arroyo. "You take some of his velocity away and
normally a guy starts to slip. But he's out there throwing cutters
and split-fingers. It's amazing what he can still do."

Ray Olmedo hit a one-out single in the sixth and Clemens walked
Adam Dunn, reaching 100 pitches for the ninth time this season. But
Scott Hatteberg and David Ross flew out to end the inning and the
crowd, sensing Clemens was done, gave him a standing ovation.

Adam Everett walked and Ausmus beat out an infield single
leading off the Astros' seventh. Clemens came out to bat and the
fans stood and cheered again before Clemens laid down a sacrifice

Biggio followed with a homer to left, his 20th of the season,
and Reds manager Jerry Narron replaced Arroyo with left-hander Bill

Game notes
Biggio hit his 280th career homer. ... CF Ryan Freel and RF
Chris Denorfia left the game after three innings after Freel
sprained his left wrist and Denorfia cut his left ankle. They were
replaced by Norris Hopper and Todd Hollandsworth. ... Clemens led
off the Astros' third with a double down the left-field line, his
second hit of the season.