Snell outduels Clemens as Astros' win streak ends

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Again, the Houston Astros' magic number with Roger Clemens on the mound was zero.

Zero as in the runs they scored. Zero as in the number of previous major-league victories for the Pirates' Ian Snell, who outpitched a 340-game winner for his first win.

Snell limited the Astros to three singles over eight innings and Freddy Sanchez homered among his three extra-base hits against Clemens, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 7-0 victory Monday night.

"I'm going to cherish this for a long time," said Snell, who previously was 0-3 with a 12.38 ERA in four career starts. "He's a pitcher I grew up idolizing and wanted to be like."

Pittsburgh's fourth consecutive victory and fifth in six games ended Houston's five-game winning streak and reduced Houston's lead over idle Philadelphia to one game in the NL wild-card race.

Jose Mesa pitched the ninth inning in a non-save situation to complete the Astros' ninth shutout loss in games started by Clemens and their 17th overall, the most in the majors. Until this season, no pitcher had been shut out as many as eight times in a season since San Diego's Randy Jones in 1978.

"We've just got this demon hanging over our head, and it's a zero," manager Phil Garner said.

Clemens (12-8) lost to the Pirates for the first time in six career starts -- he was 3-0 -- but the Astros dropped all three games he started against Pittsburgh this season. The Pirates also won 6-4 on May 4 and 1-0 on Aug. 13, both in Houston.

Clemens' 670th career start was his first in Pittsburgh -- PNC Park was the only current park where he had not started -- but he never looked sharp despite striking out two in the first. He allowed 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings, the most he's allowed since he also gave up 11 on April 15, 1999, pitching for the Yankees against the Orioles.

"What I featured out there is not good enough to get it done," Clemens said. "It just seemed like I was pitching out of the stretch a lot. I tried to battle and make pitches and be as stingy as I could ... but they broke it open."

Snell (1-2) needed 17 major-league appearances before finally showing why he was considered one of the Pirates' top prospects after going 11-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 18 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis and 58-19 overall in the minors. The right-hander didn't allow a runner past second base, striking out five and walking three and didn't look intimidated going against a pitcher teammate Jack Wilson called the best in major-league history.

"I faced Chris Carpenter in my last start, and he's probably going to win the Cy Young Award, so it didn't faze me at all," Snell said.

Wilson tripled with one out in the third and scored when Jason Bay singled for his 91st RBI, and Sanchez hit his third homer in the fourth to make it 2-0. The homer was only the 11th against Clemens this season, the second fewest by a pitcher with 175 innings or more; Florida's Dontrelle Willis has allowed nine.

With Clemens never throwing harder than 92 miles per hour, Sanchez doubled to start the sixth and scored on Tike Redman's
single. Wilson's third hit, a single, scored Redman, and Rob Mackowiak's two-run double made it 6-0.

Not many, if any, of Clemens' 172 career losses have come against a lineup that appeared to be less intimidating. The Pirates started four rookies and two second-year players against one of baseball's premier pitchers ever, yet had Clemens out of the game
in the sixth.

"My main concern is when it's 2-0, I've got to keep it at 2-0," Clemens said. "It gives us a little more of a chance. To give up four more runs, that isn't going to get it done. I don't care who you're facing or who you're playing, it's not going to get it done."

It was the second time this season a Pirates rookie pitcher has beaten one of baseball's all-time win leaders. Left-hander Zach Duke beat the Cubs' Greg Maddux 3-0 on July 16 for his second career victory.

Game notes
Clemens is 1-4 in his last eight starts. ... Astros
starters had a 1.01 ERA during their winning streak. ... Astros infielder Morgan Ensberg had a single in his first start since injuring a hand Sept. 5. ... Wilson was 1-for-13 against Clemens before going 3-for-4. ... Of the Astros' final 13 games, including Monday's, 11 are against teams with losing records. ... Bay stole second base in the third and is 20-for-20 in steal attempts, one short of Kevin McReynolds' 1988 single-season record of 21-for-21. .. Five of Clemens' shutout losses were by 1-0. ... The Astros are 4-3 in Pittsburgh, with all three losses by shutout.