Prior pitched five shutout innings in his third start since
coming off the DL and Todd Walker homered twice, ending Clemens'
unbeaten streak at 13 games with a 7-2 win over the Houston Astros
on Monday night.
A highly anticipated pitching duel between one of the game's
most enduring stars and one of its newest was surprisingly lopsided
in favor of the Cubs' 23-year-old All-Star.
"Going against someone that's going into the Hall of Fame ...
it was just nice to beat him," Prior said. "It's pretty special
because he doesn't give up many runs."
Prior (1-1) allowed only five hits and struck out eight, denying
his childhood idol a chance to become the first pitcher in the big
leagues with 10 wins. The 41-year-old Clemens also could have
become the first Astro to start the season 10-0 since Juan Agosto
Clemens hadn't lost since Sept. 6, 2003 against Boston, back
when he was with the New York Yankees.
Walker went 4-for-5 with homers in the sixth and ninth and a
triple in the third. He also scored four runs. The Cubs' second
baseman is now 14-for-29 in his last six games after going 0-for-13
in his previous four.
Houston, the NL's top-hitting team, has failed to score more
than five runs in a game since a 7-1 win over St. Louis on May 30.
That's a stretch of 13 games.
The Astros' problems were compounded by the loss of shortstop
Adam Everett, who left the game in the first inning after straining
his left hamstring while running out an infield single.
"Offensively we stink right now," Houston catcher Brad Ausmus
said. "We do need to expect more of our offense right now."
The Cubs showed no weariness following Sunday's 15-inning
thriller against the Anaheim Angels, a 6-5 victory that took 5
hours, 8 minutes to complete.
Chicago was helped by Clemens (9-1) struggling throughout the
night, giving up five runs on a season-high 10 hits. He had six
strikeouts but didn't appear to have any zip on his normally
fearsome fastball and slider.
"I was just battling all night," Clemens said. "You're going
to have a tough outing like this once in a while."
The Rocket opened the fifth by allowing two singles and a walk,
loading the bases with no outs. Ramirez then singled in Todd Walker
and Derrek Lee followed with an RBI single to score Martinez and
give Chicago a 4-0 lead.
Clemens worked his way out of that jam, but promptly gave up a
homer to Walker in the sixth that gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead. He was
replaced by reliever Kirk Bullinger to start the seventh.
Meanwhile, Prior bounced back nicely from a rough outing in his
second start of the season, when he gave up five runs on five hits
with five walks in 3 2-3 innings in a 12-4 loss to St. Louis.
He looked as sharp as ever in this one, his third start after
missing the first two months of the season with Achilles'
Prior struck out four of the first five batters he faced and
didn't allow a runner past first base until Jose Vizcaino's double
in the fourth. He retired the side in order in the fifth.
After Lance Berkman doubled deep to centerfielder in the sixth,
Prior departed to a smattering of applause from a small contingent
of rowdy Cubs fans. Jimmy Anderson replaced him and went the final
four innings for his first save.
"That was a great performance by Mark Prior," Cubs manager
Dusty Baker said. "He had everything but endurance and stamina.
We're gonna keep him on a pitch count until he can build up his
Ramon Martinez's two-out single off Clemens in the third scored
Todd Walker for the game's first run and Ramirez led off the fourth
with a homer that just sailed over the right-field fence, giving
the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
From there, the frustration started to show for the Astros.
Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell, moved from third to fifth in
the lineup after hitting .209 on a 12-game road trip, flung a
Gatorade cooler in the dugout during the game. Bagwell went 0-for-4
on Monday, striking out twice.
Brad Ausmus hit an RBI double in the ninth and scored on Craig
Astros RF Richard Hidalgo missed his third straight start
with a sore neck. He hurt it making a diving catch. Hidalgo
pinch-hit in the seventh, hitting into a double play. The Astros
also were missing 3B Mike Lamb, who went home to California on
Monday for a family funeral. ... Clemens has drawn five sellout
crowds to his seven home starts. Houston has had five other
sellouts this season for a total of 10, three more than the Astros
had in 81 home games last season.
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