Rocket: 7 shutout innings, no 8th win


HOUSTON (AP) -- Mike Piazza waited until the brink of defeat to
ruin Roger Clemens' afternoon.

Piazza spoiled Clemens' bid for his eighth straight win with a
tying homer in the ninth inning off Octavio Dotel, and the New York
Mets beat the Houston Astros 3-2 Sunday on Jason Phillips'
13th-inning home run.

"We had the right guy up at the right time," Mets manager Art
Howe said. "You've got to give Mike all the credit in the world.
That's big-time. Two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning. We
might have stolen this one."

After Clemens struck out 10 in seven shutout innings, the Mets
rallied in the ninth against Dotel. Eric Valent led off with a
double, and two outs later, Piazza hit a 1-2 pitch over the
right-center fence and into the Astros' bullpen to tie it.

That ended Clemens' chance to become the first pitcher since
Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1997 to win his first eight starts of
the season. Dotel blew his second save in three outings.

The Rocket allowed only two hits and singled with the bases
loaded in the sixth, the fifth RBI of his career. He lowered his
ERA to a major league-leading 1.72.

"There's no doubt he was dominating us," Piazza said.
"Anytime you've got a chance to win the game, it's a good feeling.
Fortunately, I got a pitch to hit and I didn't miss it."

A sellout crowd of 43,247 came out for one of Clemens' most
dominant performances in a remarkable comeback season. In their
head-to-head matchup, Piazza went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a
walk -- the only one Clemens allowed.

Clemens brought a little heat to their simmering rivalry: he
threw a 92 mph fastball high and inside to Piazza in the second,
forcing the All-Star slugger to take a step back.

Clemens beaned Piazza during the 2000 season, then threw the
barrel of a broken bat near him in the World Series that year.

Playing first base, Piazza tagged Clemens out on a bunt in the
second. After Clemens' single, the two didn't speak during a
pitching change, with Piazza chatting with first-base umpire Mark
Wegner instead.

Clemens didn't have much to say about Piazza afterward.

"I think he's a good hitter. You have to pitch him away,"
Clemens said before bolting quickly out of the clubhouse.

Phillips, who has struggled all season and didn't enter the game
until the 10th, connected against Brandon Backe (1-1) for his first
home run since Aug. 20.

"I wouldn't have even played if (Piazza) hadn't hit his home
run," Phillips said. "I've seen that guy do amazing things time
and time again. We were pinching ourselves on the bench to see if
it really happened."

Dan Wheeler (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

The 41-year-old Clemens really got rolling in the third inning,
striking out six straight batters. He retired 11 in a row before
Todd Zeile singled in the seventh.

The Rocket has 21 strikeouts in his last two starts.

"I hope you guys are enjoying watching this guy," Houston
manager Jimy Williams said. "He's a special player."

The Astros loaded the bases in the sixth on a single by Brad Ausmus
and a questionable call on a play at second base by umpire
Larry Young.

Replays showed that Mets second baseman Danny Garcia appeared to
tag Morgan Ensberg for the final out of the inning, but Young ruled
Ensberg was safe. The call enraged Howe, who was ejected after
vigorously arguing with the umpires for several minutes.

"In the back of his mind, I think he knew that he missed the
call," Howe said. "That's why he gave me every chance to stay in
the game. There was only one way I was going to leave."

Clemens then singled in Jeff Kent to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.

However, the Astros struggled to capitalize on their scoring
opportunities, totaling 13 hits and leaving a season-high 17 on

"We pretty much outplayed them in every aspect of the game
except the win column," Houston center fielder Craig Biggio said.
"It's very disappointing. We had it and just weren't able to
capitalize when we needed to."

Matt Ginter, called up from Triple-A Norfolk to make his first
major league start, allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 2/3
innings against the NL's top-hitting team. But he was lifted after
Clemens' RBI single.

Notes: Ginter, called up to start in place of ailing Al Leiter,
got the first hit of his major league career against Clemens in the
second inning. The right-hander singled to left for the Mets' first
hit of the game. Leiter has tendinitis in his left shoulder but is
expected to pitch next weekend against Colorado. ... It was
Clemens' 106th career game with at least 10 strikeouts. ... It was
the fifth sellout of the season at Minute Maid Park, four with
Clemens on the mound.