Matt Clement is learning how to finish what he starts.
The Cubs' most reliable pitcher of late almost did it again in Sunday's 4-2 victory over Houston.
Coming off the first complete game of his career, Clement took the mound against Houston at Wrigley Field and carried a 4-1 lead into the eighth inning.
Clement retired two men in the eighth, but he had hit a batter and allowed a two-out looping single by Jose Vizcaino when Cubs manager Don Baylor sauntered out to the mound. The 37,643 skeptical fans registered their dissenting opinion with a chorus of boos.
"You're always disappointed to come out of the game, but I kind of figured that the bullpen was up early and I had a lot of pitches," said Clement, who threw 113. "I trust Don and his decisions. Any pitcher wants to fight and stay in the game, but there is a time."
Reliever Antonio Alfonseca then yielded an RBI single to Lance Berkman to pull the Astros within 4-2. But Jeff Bagwell was retired on a popout to second to end the inning.
Alfonseca walked Daryle Ward to open the ninth before hitting Richard Hidalgo with a pitch. But he induced a double-play grounder from Geoff Blum and a groundout to short by Brad Ausmus to end the game in dramatic fashion as the Cubs salvaged the final game of the three-game series.
"The double play was big for us, I know that," said Baylor.
The Cubs turned a season-high three double plays.
In his last three games, Clement (4-3) has posted a 1.52 earned-run average and struck out 21 batters.
"He has gotten better and better, if that's possible," said Baylor. "Last time out he had a complete-game shutout. Today he had his good stuff. He left his slider up to Vizcaino, so I had to go get him after that. I wasn't going to let somebody hit a home run or tie the ballgame."
Last Tuesday Clement carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before settling for a two-hitter in a 3-0 win at Pittsburgh. Clement tossed that first career complete game in his 108th start.
"I always want to stay in, but Antonio was fresh and he hasn't thrown in a while," said Clement, who walked two and struck out six.
"Earlier in the season I was having trouble getting through the fifth and sixth innings stamina-wise. But I have finally gotten into a pretty good routine. I guess getting traded over here [from Florida], you're not used to day games and being able to get on a good workout schedule. Over the last five starts I have been able to get into a good schedule of throwing and running and doing all of the stuff I like to do. I think that is what has helped me get later into the games."
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Todd Hundley grounded into a bases-loaded double play to score Fred McGriff.
When McGriff beat out a potential double-play grounder in the third inning, Mark Bellhorn scored from third to make it 2-0. Moises Alou led off the fourth inning against Houston starter Shane Reynolds (3-5) with his third home run of the season. Bellhorn blasted a solo shot in the fifth for a 4-1 lead.
'The Cubs embark on a nine-game trip to Milwaukee, Seattle and Houston, beginning Monday night at Miller Park.
"It is good to leave home with a win," said Baylor. "Four runs today with the wind blowing in was probably all there were going to be. We cashed in on all the runs we had a chance to get."