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.

Tiebreaker Possibilities

If the Giants, Cubs and Astros finish in a threeway tie, they would be seeded 1-2-3 based on head-to-head play. So that would make the Giants the No. 1 seed. It would be their choice whether to play one game or two. If they choose to play once:

  • Cubs (No. 2 seed) play Astros (No. 3) -- in Chicago.

  • The winner hosts the Giants the next day.

    If the Giants choose to play two games (unlikely):

  • They play the Astros in San Francisco.

  • If they win, they play the Cubs the next day in San Francisco.

  • If they lose, the Astros and Cubs play in Houston.

    Two-way ties:

  • If the Giants finish in a two-way tie with anybody, the game will be played in San Francisco.

  • If the Cubs and Astros tie for the wild card, they would play in Houston.

    If the Giants, Dodgers, Cubs and Astros finish with the same record, the Giants and Dodgers will play for the West. The loser then goes into the same three-way tiebreaker format to decide the wild card.

  • 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


    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


    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.