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Clemens bids farewell to Houston; Astros sweep Cards

HOUSTON (AP) -- Roger Clemens waved to Houston's fans for the
final time this season. Then, the rest of the Astros gave the
sellout crowd even more to cheer about on Sunday night.

Clemens struck out six in five innings and Aubrey Huff hit a
three-run homer in the seventh as the Astros beat the St. Louis
Cardinals 7-3 to complete a four-game sweep.

"It was a great deal of fun," Clemens said. "I wish we could
take these last four crowds we've had here with us on the road."

Clemens got a no-decision in his 689th career start. He left
before the Cardinals batted in the sixth inning, with the Astros
leading 3-1. The Houston infield gathered around the Rocket before
manager Phil Garner replaced him with left-hander Wandy Rodriguez.

Clemens tipped his cap and waved to the cheering crowd in what
may have been the second-to-last start of the season -- and his
23-year career. The 44-year-old Clemens has not said whether he'll
return in 2007.

Clemens said he was focused on pitching Sunday night, not his
future.

"I knew what was at stake," he said. "You don't want to be
the one to drop the ball. Your energy and your concentration has to
be at its highest."

Clemens had plenty of family in the stands, but said that's no
indication that this was a farewell performance. Neither was his
cap-doffing.

"I'm not going to say a whole lot right now," Clemens said.
"I just threw my hands and really, tipped my cap to the crowd for
them, not for me. I was tipping my cap to them for all they've done
while we're at home."

Clemens walked off with similar fanfare Wednesday, which most
expected to be his last start at Minute Maid Park. But after he
threw six scoreless innings against Cincinnati, Garner asked
Clemens if he could pitch again Sunday and Clemens said he'd be
ready.

Fans bought about 4,000 tickets for the home finale on Friday to
secure the 26th sellout of the season.

Sunday's crowd of 43,704 was the third largest for a regular
season game at the seven-year-old ballpark. Clemens' first start
this season, against Minnesota on June 22, drew the record crowd of
43,769.

The seven-time Cy Young winner expects to pitch one more time
this season, probably in Atlanta on Friday.

The Houston Astros may not make the playoffs this year, but don't blame Roger Clemens. Since rejoining the Astros in June, Clemens is 7-5 with a 2.35 ERA -- not bad for someone born before the British Invasion. Here are the pitchers, aged 44-and-older, with the best ERA in a season (min. 100 IP).

Player
Age
Year
ERA

Joe Heving

44

1944

1.95

Roger Clemens

44

2006

2.35

Jack Quinn

45

1928

2.89

Nolan Ryan*

44

1991

2.91

Satchel Paige*

46

1952

3.07

* -- Hall of Famer

Clemens said his arm "felt a little heavy" early in Sunday's
game and Chris Duncan, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen hit three
straight singles in the first inning for a 1-0 lead.

During the inning, catcher Brad Ausmus visited the mound and
told Clemens that his pitches still had plenty of zip. The Rocket
then struck out five Cardinals between the second and fourth.

"He was strong," said Ausmus. "He actually maybe was a little
too strong in the beginning and had trouble locating because of it.
But he got better and better."

John Rodriguez also had an RBI single for the Cardinals, who've
lost nine of their last 10 road games. Their magic number to clinch
the NL Central remains stuck on five.

Manager Tony La Russa tried to stay positive.

"What we did great was we had four very tough losses and every
night we came out and played," he said. "I give our club a lot of
credit for that and I have terrific respect, because that's hard to
do."

Ausmus had a two-run double for the Astros, who've won five in a
row and closed to within 3 1-2 games of the Cardinals in the
division. The Astros remain five behind Philadelphia in the NL
wild-card race. They play the Phillies on Monday.

"Right now, it's started to feel like we're playing pretty good
ball," Garner said. "We've got to play our best baseball and this
is starting to look like pretty good baseball here."

Huff capped a four-run seventh with his 12th homer of the season
off St. Louis reliever Randy Flores.

Pinch hitter Eric Bruntlett led off with a double to left and
Craig Biggio beat out a bunt off Josh Hancock (3-3). Flores
relieved and Bruntlett snapped a 3-3 tie when he scored on Lance
Berkman's slow grounder to second baseman Ronnie Belliard. While
Bruntlett crossed the plate, Belliard missed a tag on Biggio before
throwing out Berkman at first, which would've been an inning-ending
double play.

Luke Scott, who homered twice on Saturday, walked before Huff
hit a towering shot into the right-field seats. Huff, a former
Tampa Bay Devil Ray, called the homer one of the most memorable of
his career.

"It's right up there," he said. "I can't remember a crowd
packed when I had a home run like that. To come out and have 40,000
people is special to me. I'm not used to that."

Chad Qualls (7-3) struck out two in 1 1-3 scoreless innings to
earn the win.

Rodriguez's single off Brad Lidge in the sixth scored Duncan and
cut Houston's lead to 3-2.

Lidge walked Yadier Molina in the seventh and was replaced by
Trever Miller. Pinch hitter Scott Spiezio singled and pinch-hitter
Ronnie Belliard grounded out to score Molina and tie the game.

Earlier, Ausmus' double down the left-field line in the fourth
put Houston up 2-1. Mike Lamb tripled to right center in the fifth
and scored on Lance Berkman's sacrifice fly to left, his
career-best 129th RBI.

Game notes
The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park stayed open for
the second time since June 2. The roof was also open for Monday's
game against Cincinnati. ... The Astros topped 3 million in
attendance for the second time in three seasons. ... SS David
Eckstein left in the fifth inning with a strained left hamstring.