<
>

Cubs outlast Astros in marathon 18-inning game

HOUSTON (AP) -- Fighting fatigue at the end of a long night, Matt
Murton found the energy for another big hit.

Murton hit a tying homer in the ninth inning and a two-run
single in the 18th, sending the Chicago Cubs to an 8-6 victory over
the Houston Astros on Tuesday in the longest regular-season game in
the 6-year history of Minute Maid Park.

"I was a little tired," Murton said. "That's just part of the
game. You have to find a way to get over it. It was a great night
in the sense we were able to win a game like that."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he's never managed a longer game.
By the end, he was down to his last pitcher -- and player -- Rich
Hill, who's scheduled to start Wednesday. Thanks to Murton, Hill
(3-5) only had to throw 28 pitches, shutting out the Astros in the
17th and 18th.

The teams used 18 pitchers in all, tying an NL record. Hill
finally ended it after 5 hours, 36 minutes, by striking out Morgan
Ensberg at 12:41 a.m. CDT on the game's 542nd pitch.

That came about 45 minutes before another 18-inning game ended
Tuesday night -- the Arizona Diamondbacks won 2-1 at Colorado. It
was the first time in major league history two games on the same
day lasted as long as 18 innings, according to the Elias Sports
Bureau.

The Cubs and Astros won't get much sleep, either. The finale of
their three-game series starts at 1:05 p.m. CDT on Wednesday.

It was Houston's third 18-inning game in 10 months. The Astros
outlasted Atlanta 7-6 in a home playoff game last October to
advance to the NL championship series, and lost 8-7 in 18 innings
at Pittsburgh on May 27.

"We normally win 18-inning games here," Houston manager Phil
Garner said. "We played hard and had great pitching performances.
It was just a tough one to lose."

Murton sent this one to extra innings with a leadoff homer in
the ninth off Astros closer Brad Lidge, who blew a save in a game
Roger Clemens started for the second time in a month.

Lidge's fifth blown save this season cost him his job as the
team's closer, too.

"I'm going to take him out of the closer's role," Garner said.
"It's going to be closer-by-committee."

Lidge was pulled from the closer's role for a short stint
earlier this season, as well.

Clemens was shaky in his 683rd career start, giving up five runs
and seven hits -- two of them homers -- in six innings. It was the
first time in 11 starts this season he yielded more than three
earned runs and more than one home run.

The Rocket was long gone by the time Dave Borkowski (1-1) came
on to pitch the final six innings for the Astros, who lost their
fourth straight game.

Fans streamed out of the ballpark by the hundreds after each
half inning, and only a few thousand were still around to see
Murton's go-ahead hit.

He didn't mind one bit.

"Any time you play 18 innings, you want to come out on the
winning side," Murton said. "Our pitchers continued to put up
zeros and we finally had an opportunity to win it."

Aramis Ramirez led off the top of the 18th with a double and
Jacque Jones, who hit a three-run homer off Clemens in the fifth,
followed with a single to put runners at the corners.

John Mabry fouled out and Ronny Cedeno grounded out before
Borkowski intentionally walked Michael Barrett, a .325 hitter, to
load the bases. Murton singled to right, scoring Ramirez and Jones.

Borkowski allowed only four hits, three in the final inning.

"I didn't feel like I was getting tired," he said. "It was a
gut-check. I just wanted to keep going out there until the end."

Hill was the 25th player used by the Cubs, marking the first
time since April 1986 that Chicago used that many in a game.

The Cubs won their longest game since Aug. 6, 1989, when they
lost 5-4 to the Pirates in 18 innings.

Adam Everett had a two-run triple and pinch-hitter Orlando
Palmeiro delivered a two-run double to spark a four-run rally in
the sixth that gave Houston a 6-5 lead.

Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler each pitched a scoreless inning
before Garner called on Lidge for the ninth. Lidge hadn't blown a
save since allowing two runs in a July 8 loss to St. Louis -- a game
Clemens also started.

The Cubs only needed one run this time and Murton got it right
away, driving a 2-2 pitch into the left-field seats.

Clemens had won his last three starts against the Cubs, but
trailed 1-0 after just four pitches.

Leadoff man Juan Pierre drove a 1-1 fastball over right fielder
Lance Berkman's head for his 10th triple. Cesar Izturis lined
Clemens' next pitch to center, putting Clemens behind for the first
time in three starts.

Cedeno hit Clemens' first pitch of the second inning into the
left-field seats, just the fourth homer Clemens had allowed this
season.

Aubrey Huff hit a two-run double in the fourth for Houston's
first runs in 14 1-3 innings. It came off Juan Mateo, the sixth
rookie to start against Clemens this season.

In the sixth, Clemens threw a pitch that brushed past
pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot's chest. His next delivery nicked Theriot
near his ribcage, prompting plate umpire Jeff Kellogg to issue
warnings to Clemens and both dugouts.

Game notes
The Cubs have homered in 10 consecutive games, their
longest streak since September 2005, when they connected in 12
straight games. ... Pierre extended his road hitting streak to 18
games. ... Astros CF Willy Taveras extended his career-best hitting
streak to 18 games, the longest active streak in the majors.