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Clemens denied 19th win, but Astros pass Cubs

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Astros can put themselves in the
playoffs. They no longer need help from anyone else.

Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent and the Astros took over the NL
wild-card lead Wednesday night, beating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4
for their club-record 15th straight home victory.

Houston moved a half-game ahead of the slumping Chicago Cubs,
who lost to Cincinnati, and the San Francisco Giants, who fell in
San Diego.

"We've certainly made it interesting for everybody," Clemens
said. "We'll take where we are right now and hope it's enough to
get us in the playoffs."

Jeff Bagwell drove in two runs for the Astros and Kent hit his
300th career homer. Clemens was denied his 19th win -- and almost
certainly a chance at his seventh 20-win season -- when he left with
the score tied at 4 after the sixth. It was his worst outing in
three weeks.

But Bagwell had a run-scoring single in the seventh and Lance
Berkman followed with an RBI double to help the Astros eclipse
their best home winning streak set in 1980 at the Astrodome.

"It's an electric atmosphere here right now," closer Brad
Lidge said. "The fans are as loud as I've ever heard them."

Chad Qualls (4-0) pitched a scoreless seventh for the win, Dan
Miceli struck out the side in the eighth and Lidge got three outs
for his 27th save in 31 chances.

The Rocket got off to a strong start, retiring the first 10
batters before So Taguchi singled in the fourth.

Roger Cedeno followed with a double to the scoreboard in deep
left, driving in Taguchi. Cedeno went to third on the throw and
scored on Jose Vizcaino's throwing error to give St. Louis a 2-1
lead.

Scott Rolen, who returned from an injured calf a night before,
added a two-run shot in the fifth to tie the game at 4. The homer,
Rolen's 34th of the season, nearly went out of the park, hitting
the train tracks atop the wall in left-center.

"We were able to get a couple of things going," Rolen said.
Clemens "gave us some chances and we weren't able to capitalize."

Clemens left the game after Jim Edmonds flied out to center to
end the inning. He isn't scheduled to make another start before the
end of the regular season, but has suggested he'd like to pitch in
the regular-season finale against Colorado on Sunday.

"I'll be ready to start or do whatever we need me to do,"
Clemens said.

Kent became the 105th player to reach 300 homers with his
second-inning shot off Jeff Suppan. The four-time All-Star joined
Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez, Chipper Jones, Ruben Sierra, Edmonds
and Vinny Castilla in reaching that mark this season.

Morgan Ensberg's two-run homer in the fourth was almost stopped
by Taguchi, who stuck his glove in the air but just missed the ball
as it bounced off the wall and into the right-field seats. Ensberg,
who hit only his ninth home run of the season, pumped his fist and
let out a yell as he rounded the bases.

Bagwell's RBI double in the fifth gave Houston a 5-4 lead it
wouldn't relinquish.

"They have some momentum going," Suppan said. "It was hard to
shut them down because they kept fighting back."

Suppan (16-9) went seven innings, allowing six runs on nine hits
in his first road loss of the year. The right-hander struck out
four and walked one.

Suppan was 10-0 in 13 road starts before Wednesday's game,
hoping to join Jimmy Key in 1994 and Greg Maddux in '95 as the only
pitchers to go undefeated in a season on the road.

Hours before the game, many Astros gathered around a large TV to
watch the final innings of the Reds-Cubs game. When Cincinnati's
Austin Kearns tied the game with a two-out double in the ninth, the
Astros' clubhouse erupted with cheers and whoops.

"That pumped us up big-time," Lidge said. "Everyone was
thinking, this is it. This is a fantastic opportunity to go up on
them."

Houston is off Thursday, then concludes its season at Minute
Maid Park with a three-game series against the Rockies.

The Cardinals, who clinched the NL Central last weekend, were
handed their first three-game sweep since June 28-30 at
Pittsburgh.

Game notes
The Cardinals gave 1B Albert Pujols the night off. John
Mabry replaced him in the lineup. ... Houston's Carlos Beltran
stole his career-high 42nd base of the season in the third. He
needs only two more homers to become the fourth player in major
league history with a 40-40 season. ... Nolan Ryan watched the game
from the second row behind home plate.