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Roger Clemens earned his first victory in more than nine months in Houston's 7-2 trouncing of the Cubs on Monday night at Minute Maid Park, despite throwing 115 pitches in a five-inning stint.
"He was good, but he wasn't Roger," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "I can't recall him having 100 pitches after five."
Facing rookie Carlos Marmol in the third start of his comeback, Clemens won for the first time since Oct. 1, when he beat the Cubs in the second-to-last game of the season in Houston.
The 43-year-old legend tied Tim Keefe for eighth on the all-time wins list with his 342nd victory while sending the Cubs to their 16th loss in 20 games.
"What are you going to do about it?" Cubs right fielder Jacque Jones said. "Just come out and play hard, like we've been doing.
"It's tough, but nobody here is complaining. We'll do the best we can to try and turn this thing around and try to salvage what we have left of the season."
After giving up a one-out triple to Juan Pierre in the fifth with the game tied 2-2, Clemens (1-2) escaped the jam and watched the Astros score twice in the bottom of the inning to put him in position to get the decision.
Preston Wilson's RBI double on a Marmol changeup gave Houston a 3-2 lead, and the Astros added another run when Ronny Cedeno failed to touch second base on what would have been an inning-ending double play.
Baker thought Cedeno straddled the bag.
"Very rarely do they call that [safe]," Baker said. "It wasn't a huge play. But it was another run."
The missed tag of second loomed large until Lance Berkman's three-run homer in the sixth off Will Ohman, his second home run of the night, put the game out of reach.
Ohman insisted it wasn't a bad pitch and called Berkman's homer a "pop fly" that somehow managed to leave the park.
"It wasn't the best located pitch I've ever thrown," Ohman said. "I didn't think it was going to go out, in this ballpark or any other. I'm just as stunned as anybody else."
Marmol lasted 41/3 innings, allowing four runs on five hits with seven walks, including two intentional walks.
He was greeted rudely by the Astros in the first inning, serving up a home run to Craig Biggio on his first pitch and a two-out solo homer to Berkman to make it 2-0.
The Cubs tied it on Jones' solo homer in the second and an RBI single by Angel Pagan in the fourth before the Astros took control.
Baker said before the game he wanted to give relief pitchers Bob Howry and Scott Eyre a day's rest. Howry ranks seventh in the National League in appearances with 42, while Eyre is eighth with 41. But the Cubs' bullpen continues to be strained by starters failing to go deep into games.
Glendon Rusch was activated from the disabled list while Angel Guzman was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, but Baker called on Ohman when he needed a left-hander, and the results weren't exactly what he'd hoped for.
"What really hurt us was the three-run homer," Baker said. "You've got to keep the ball in the park.
"We probably lead the league in home runs [allowed] and walks [issued]."