<
>

Rocket bounces back from two-game skid

HOUSTON (AP) -- Roger Clemens got back on track, Carlos Beltran
is on the way and Brad Lidge looked good as a closer.

The Houston Astros sure had a big night.

Clemens became the first 10-game winner in the majors and Morgan
Ensberg hit a go-ahead single in the seventh inning, leading the
Astros to a 3-2 victory Thursday night over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

During the game, Houston acquired Beltran from Kansas City as
part of a three-team trade that also sent closer Octavio Dotel from
the Astros to Oakland. Houston hopes its new star center fielder
will join the team in time for Friday night's game at Texas.

"They're trying to give us that little extra edge," said Craig
Biggio, who probably will shift from center to left to make room
for Beltran. "It's going to be fun."

Clemens (10-2) earned his 320th win, moving within four of Nolan
Ryan and Don Sutton for 12th place on the career list. The Rocket
allowed two runs -- one earned -- and four hits in seven innings. He
also had four strikeouts, giving him 4,200 for his career, second
only to Ryan's 5,714.

"Those first nine wins weren't as easy as they looked to some
people," Clemens said. "Tonight wasn't easy, either. It's a long
road and sometimes you just try to stay the course."

Ensberg went 2-for-3 with the tiebreaking single and scored
twice, helping Houston move back into fourth place in the NL
Central for the first time in nearly two weeks.

It was the perfect finish to the Astros' longest homestand of
the season.

"We have something to build on here," manager Jimy Williams
said, "and hopefully it will continue."

Pittsburgh, which ended a five-game skid Wednesday, has lost 15
of 18.

Pirates starter Sean Burnett (1-1), who was only 20 months old
when Clemens made his major league debut with Boston in 1984, fared
well in his third major league start but couldn't get the win.

The 21-year-old right hander went seven innings, allowing only
three runs on five hits. He walked four and struck out one.

"I just wanted to compete and make it look like I belonged out
there," Burnett said. "I've been looking forward to this the last
couple of days. For a guy, 21 years old, to go up against Roger
Clemens ... I may never get another chance."

Clemens bounced back nicely from a two-game skid during which he
allowed 10 runs and 19 hits in losses to the Chicago Cubs and
Anaheim.

He struggled early, loading the bases in the second after
walking Jason Bay and Abraham Nunez and giving up a single to Tike
Redman. But Burnett struck out swinging, and the Rocket was never
in trouble again.

Clemens' final strikeout of the night -- a 95 mph fastball that
had Bay swinging wildly -- brought the crowd of 39,851 to its feet.

Dan Miceli pitched a scoreless eighth to set up Lidge, who heard
about the trade just after the start of the game. He made an
impressive debut as the Astros' new closer.

Lidge got Craig Wilson to pop up to center, then struck out Rob
Mackowiak and Bay to earn his third save of the season. The crowd
cheered as Lidge made his way to the dugout.

"It was extremely exciting," Lidge said. "It felt great to
end the game that way."

The trade of Dotel leaves Lidge as the Astros' closer -- for now.
Asked if Houston might bring in a veteran relief ace, general
manager Gerry Hunsicker cracked a smile and said: "We'll see what
tomorrow brings."

Jeff Kent singled in Ensberg in the first and third to give the
Astros an early 2-0 lead before Pittsburgh rallied in the fifth.

Redman led off with a single, stole a base, then scored on
Abraham Nunez's single to left. Nunez advanced to second on
Burnett's sacrifice bunt, went to third on Jason Kendall's single
and scored on a passed ball.

But Ensberg's RBI single in the seventh put the Astros back on
top to stay.

Game notes
Each team finished with five hits, all singles. ... The
Houston crowd applauded briefly when the Beltran trade was
announced. ... The Pirates and Astros won't face each other again
until Sept. 3 in Houston. ... Pittsburgh is 7-31 at Minute Maid
Park.