Final

Series: Game 3 of 3

Minnesota won 2-1

Game 1: Tuesday, June 20
Minnesota6Final
in 10
Houston5
Game 2: Wednesday, June 21
Minnesota3Final
Houston5
Game 3: Thursday, June 22
Minnesota4Final
Houston2

Twins 4

(36-35, 15-25 away)

Astros 2

(37-36, 25-18 home)

    8:05 PM ET, June 22, 2006

    Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas 

    123456789 R H E
    MIN 002001010 4 10 0
    HOU 000000020 2 5 1

    W: F. Liriano (7-1)

    L: R. Clemens (0-1)

    S: J. Nathan (11)

    Clemens upstaged in debut by Twins rookie Liriano

    HOUSTON (AP) -- While Roger Clemens returned to the mound for his 23rd major league season, his Houston Astros teammates got a close look at a future ace in Francisco Liriano.

    Olney: It'll get better
    Roger Clemens was OK. Not great, not terrible. Plain ol' OK. And for someone who is 43 and stepping into the middle of a marathon when all the other runners are warmed up and in midrace form, not bad.

    But Clemens looked healthy, and he will get better. The last month Clemens was fully healthy, this past August, he had an ERA of 1.70 and opposing hitters batted .166. Is he going to get to that point again? I don't know. But he's at least going to be good, once he gets his legs back, and he may well be a difference-maker in the NL playoff race.

    • For more of Buster Olney's analysis, click here. Insider

    Minnesota's 22-year-old phenom pitched seven scoreless innings to lead the Twins to a 4-2 win over Houston in Clemens' much-anticipated 2006 debut.

    The Rocket was looking for his 342nd win. Instead it was Liriano, only 7 months old when Clemens started his big league career, who earned his eighth victory.

    "That's as good as we've seen," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "Let me say that again -- that's the best we've seen so far."

    The 43-year-old Clemens (0-1), a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, left after throwing 100 pitches in five innings. It was his first major league start since leaving Game 1 of the World Series exactly eight months ago with a strained hamstring. He allowed six hits and two runs while striking out four and walking two.

    "I'm trying to fight off age the best I can and I'll do the work," Clemens said. "I came in as a power pitcher, I want to go out as one. That's the objective."

    Liriano (7-1) gave up just four hits in eight innings and didn't allow a run until Jason Lane's two-run homer in the eighth, helping the Twins to their ninth win in 10 games and their fourth straight series victory.

    Joe Nathan worked the ninth for his 11th save.

    "It was fun to watch Roger," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But on our side it was actually more fun to watch Francisco. He's what we come to see."

    The sellout crowd of 43,769 was the largest in the history of Houston's ballpark.

    Clemens, who wears jersey No. 22, re-signed with the Astros on May 31 for a one-year contract worth $22,000,022. Since he's joining the team late, he'll get a portion of that amount -- about $12.25 million. He had three tuneup starts in the minors before joining the Astros.

    "It was positive," Clemens said. "My body felt better than expected and I hope and expect to get stronger each time I get out there."

    Liriano faced the minimum through the first six innings, thanks to double plays in three of them. He walked Craig Biggio leading off the seventh before retiring three straight batters.

    Liriano seemed unfazed by all the hoopla surrounding Clemens' debut.

    "I feel about the same as I always do," he said. "I just put it out of my mind and don't think about it. I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself."

    It was the longest outing of the season for Liriano, who struck out a career-high 11 batters in his last start. He fanned seven and walked two Thursday.

    "He didn't leave anything over the plate to hit," Astros shortstop Adam Everett said. "It's pretty amazing. I think we faced one of the premier pitchers in the game right now."

    Clemens' early departure was likely precipitated by his struggles in the third inning. He gave up an RBI double to Jason Kubel and a run-scoring single to Michael Cuddyer.

    "I'm disappointed. There was one pitch I'd like to have back," Clemens said, referring to Kubel's double. "Other than that, it was just a good battle. It was a good challenge for me."

    The Rocket then walked Justin Morneau, sending catcher Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jim Hickey to the mound for a short chat.

    "I had that one long inning and I was trying to make a point to work fast and see how winded I could get and it worked out fine," Clemens said.

    Clemens made 35 pitches in the first two innings combined, but had thrown 38 more by the time he struck out Torii Hunter to end the third.

    "Roger's 43, there's no way he's going to be like he used to," said Hunter, who is 0-for-22 with 13 strikeouts against Clemens. "He's throwing 91 (mph), not 98 or 99 like he used to. You can't expect him to be that great. But he still looks good."

    The Twins extended their lead to 3-0 in the sixth when Morneau homered off Russ Springer. Hunter had an RBI single in the eighth.

    In the fifth, Clemens lumbered over to cover first base on a 3-6-1 double play. He pointed at the umpire to make sure he got the call before slowly retreating to the mound.

    Early on, he showed his signature pinpoint control. Two of Clemens' first three pitches were 91 mph fastballs for strikes. On the fourth, Luis Castillo hit a chopper over the mound. Clemens jumped to glove it, but dropped the ball on the way down and couldn't scoop it up before Castillo reached first base safely. Clemens was charged with an error.

    The next batter grounded into a double play before Joe Mauer, who leads the majors in hitting, struck out.

    This game continued a trend from last year as the Astros failed to give Clemens much run support. The Rocket was 13-8 with a career-best 1.87 ERA in 32 starts last season, but Houston was shut out in nine of his starts and scored two runs or less in five others.

    "Hopefully, it won't be like last year," Everett said.

    Fittingly, it was University of Texas night at Minute Maid Park as its favorite former baseball player took the mound. The sellout crowd that gave him a standing ovation when he took the mound was peppered with Clemens jerseys, from both the Astros and Texas, and many fans held signs.

    Among the most clever was a man in what looked to be a space suit, holding one that read: "That's a Roger Houston Our Rocket Has Landed." Another read: "Clemens is proof the 40s is the new 30s."

    Between the first and second innings a video segment played on the stadium screen featuring Astros pitchers discussing Clemens' performance when he came out of the bullpen to pitch in Houston's 18-inning playoff win over the Braves last season.

    Game notes


    The Astros purchased Clemens' contract from Triple-A Round Rock before the game. ... Cuddyer extended his hitting streak to seven games.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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