Published January 14, 2015
Roger Clemens (search) isn't done yet, and neither are the Houston Astros.
Putting aside talk this might be his final game, Clemens focused on something more important — pitching to save their season.
Clemens slowed down St. Louis for seven innings, closer Brad Lidge came in to finish off the Cardinals and Houston won 5-2 Saturday, cutting its deficit to 2-1 in the NL championship series.
"It was a must-win for us," Clemens said.
There was a chance this might have been Clemens' farewell, especially if the Cardinals win the next two games and he decides to retire — for real, this time.
Yet at 42, and possibly in line for his seventh Cy Young award, he's got his eyes on a bigger prize: pitching his hometown team to its first trip to the World Series.
"Obviously, I want to pitch again," he said. "Not once did I ever think that could be my last start."
Jeff Kent's two-run homer capped a three-run burst in the first inning. Carlos Beltran homered yet again, connecting along with Lance Berkman in the eighth to further highlight a series featuring sluggers.
Clemens overcame a first-inning homer by Larry Walker (search) and a later shot by Jim Edmonds, lasting long enough so that Houston manager Phil Garner could avoid using his shaky middle relievers.
"What you saw today was exactly what he's done for us so many times," Garner said. "He finds a way to get it done."
No team in baseball's postseason has ever rallied from a 3-0 hole. The Astros won't have to try, either, and will start 20-game winner Roy Oswalt against Jason Marquis on Sunday in hopes of leveling the best-of-seven matchup.
Clemens completed his outing by striking out pinch-hitter Roger Cedeno, then hopped off the mound and pumped his fist. He stalked and snarled his way back to the dugout, muttering to himself all the way.
Clemens' wife, Debbie, celebrated by double high-fiving a friend in the stands and the fans roared right along.
"No matter my age or what I've done in the past, you want to make a good showing," he said.
With the crowd raising a ruckus, Lidge relieved Clemens and blew away the Cardinals, striking out Walker and Game 2 star Scott Rolen.
"When it was 3-2 and we were in the middle of the game and everybody was cruising along, we felt like that we had a good shot to get something done," Rolen said. "They just kept making pitches."
Beltran added insurance when he homered in his fourth straight postseason game, tying the record set by Jeffrey Leonard in the 1987 NLCS. The solo shot was Beltran's seventh homer in the playoffs and, combined with Berkman's drive, gave Lidge extra room to work.
"This is what we were expecting," Beltran said.
Making his first appearance in a week, Lidge walked a batter and hit one in the ninth before striking out pinch-hitter John Mabry to end it.
"It felt great. And I'm definitely available for tomorrow," Lidge said.
The Astros won for the 20th time in their last 21 games at Minute Maid Park, and assured themselves of playing at least twice more at home.
"The atmosphere is electric here right now," Lidge said. "We've been playing with a lot of confidence here."
Houston also continued to lead in the home-run derby, hitting nine in two games to St. Louis' seven.
"Dangerous lineups and mistakes, guys are punishing," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "They're not popping any of them up."
Jeff Suppan did fine as the Cardinals' starter, but the result was the same. He was 1-4 against the Astros this season, including 0-3 in head-to-head duels with Clemens.
Clemens became the oldest starting pitcher to win a postseason game — he bettered the mark he set earlier this month when he beat Atlanta in the first round.
Clemens gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked two. He admitted a day earlier that he probably would be "anxious" about this assignment, and clearly was not at his overpowering best — at least not at the start.
He didn't challenge hitters in the early innings and certainly didn't threaten them with anything up-and-in. Despite several chances, he didn't put away any batters with two strikes until fanning Edgar Renteria in the fourth.
"I came out a little slow," Clemens said. "As the game went on, I was sharper. It worked out."
Next up was Reggie Sanders, and a curious sequence followed. With the count 2-2, two outs and a runner on second base, Clemens didn't see Sanders ask for time and step out of the batter's box
As Clemens came forward, he suddenly saw the situation and soft-tossed the ball toward the Cardinals' on-deck circle to the left of home plate, where Mike Matheny caught it on a bounce. Clemens pointed in, as if to ask who had called time, and catcher Brad Ausmus trotted to the mound.
"Not a big deal," Clemens said. Notes: Walker has scored 11 runs in the playoffs, a postseason record for the Cardinals. ... Houston pitcher Andy Pettitte's wife, Laura, sang the national anthem and "God Bless America." ... There was a five-minute video tribute to the late Ken Caminiti before the game.