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Clemens' 5 innings worst outing of season

5/23/2004

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Third baseman Juan Castro raised his
dirt-covered glove to show the ball safely inside, ending a game
and starting a celebration.

In that joyous moment, Roger Clemens was an afterthought.

Clemens lasted only five innings in his worst NL outing, and
Houston's bullpen got roughed up as well, allowing the Cincinnati
Reds to rally for an emotional 8-7 victory Saturday night.

Sean Casey and Ken Griffey Jr. had run-scoring doubles in the
eighth off Brad Lidge (0-1) for Cincinnati's seventh victory in
eight games, pushing the Reds a season-high six games over .500.

It wasn't secure until Castro made a diving, backhand catch of
Jose Vizcaino's slicing liner with two runners aboard, stretching
as far as he could.

"I didn't know until I held it in my glove and saw it inside,"
Castro said.

With that, the Reds forged a three-way tie atop the NL Central
with the Astros and Cubs, two teams expected to leave them in the
dust.

"Nobody gave us a chance," Griffey said. "We just wanted to
come out at the beginning of spring training and make the people of
Cincinnati very proud of this baseball team. So far, we're having a
lot of fun doing it."

The only thing that didn't slip away from Houston was The
Rocket's streak. The six-time Cy Young winner has won his last 11
decisions, a string that started Sept. 11. He didn't lose for the
Yankees in the playoffs, either.

The Astros had to dig deep to leave him with no decision and
preserve his 7-0 record.

Clemens gave up a season-high six runs in his shortest outing
since switching leagues. He warmed his famous fastball up to 95
mph, but couldn't keep an inspired team down.

"It was disappointing," said Clemens, who threw a season-high
105 pitches. "I have to be better than that next time. I felt I
let the team down."

Adam Dunn's two-run double in the third inning set the tone and
pumped up the crowd of 41,890, the Reds' first full house since
opening day.

The Astros trailed 6-4 in the top of the sixth when Clemens left
for pinch-hitter Mike Lamb, whose homer started another comeback.
Richard Hidalgo's sacrifice fly in the seventh off Todd Jones (3-1)
tied the game and got Clemens off the hook.

From there, it was up to the bullpens. Cincinnati's was just a
bit better.

Danny Graves pitched the ninth for his 20th save in 24 chances,
but had a close call of his own. Morgan Ensberg's RBI single cut it
to 8-7, but Lance Berkman was caught in a rundown as he tried to
score the tying run from third on Hidalgo's grounder to Castro.

Then, Castro ended it with a diving flourish.

Four days after 40-year-old Randy Johnson became the oldest
pitcher to throw a perfect game, Clemens struggled mightily to
extend his own age-defying feat.

Clemens, who came out of a brief retirement to pitch for his
hometown team at 41, surpassed all expectations by winning his
first seven starts in dominating fashion.

That streak ended when the bullpen blew a late lead against the
Mets last Sunday, leaving him with a no-decision but an unblemished
record.

The Reds were determined to take care of that, too. A scrawled
pregame message on their clubhouse board said, "Perpetual optimism
is a force multiplier. Clemens 7-1."

For five innings, optimism was enough.

The Reds sent nine batters to the plate for three runs in the
third, pulling ahead 4-0. Dunn's bases-loaded double capped the
rally and drew one of the loudest ovations in Great American Ball
Park's two seasons.

Clemens shook his head and muttered to himself as he slowly
walked off the mound, head down, after the inning.

His teammates gave him a reprieve, tying it in the fifth on Jeff
Kent's two-run double and Berkman's two-run homer.

Once again, Clemens wasn't up to it. The Reds scored twice in
the bottom of the inning.

Down 6-4, The Rocket was done. His ERA jumped from a major
league-leading 1.72 to 2.51.

The only thing that Clemens won was the game's marquee matchup.
He got Griffey on a called third strike, then struck him out
swinging at a belt-high, 88 mph fastball. Griffey also flied out.

Coming into the game, Griffey had a .360 career average against
Clemens with six homers, his second-highest total off any pitcher.

Game notes
Clemens had never pitched at Great American, the major
league park closest to his birthplace of Dayton, Ohio. ... Reds 3B
Brandon Larson was supposed to start a rehab stint with Double-A
Chattanooga, but he came down with the flu. Larson has been on the
DL twice, this time with a torn thigh muscle. ... Dunn is 4-for-4
in his career off Clemens.