Clemens, Astros deal staggering Nats a 14-1 punch

Six shutout innings extend Washington's skid to 4-12

July 23, 2005|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Science question: What do you get when you match baseball's most dominant road-game pitcher against the National League's lowest-scoring, worst home run-hitting club?

Answer: Plenty of zeroes.

As in zero runs in six innings against Roger Clemens, whose Houston Astros won their sixth straight game by embarrassing the staggering Washington Nationals, 14-1.

As in zero runners past second base against Clemens, who has surrendered two earned runs in 59 innings over nine road starts.

As in zero fun for the Nationals and zero idea how the team's braintrust can end a slide that has seen them drop 12 of their past 16 games after they had led the NL East by 5 1/2 games.

The Astros recorded a season high for hits (19) and runs against three Nationals pitchers. It all led to Washington's most lopsided loss of the season, eclipsing an 11-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels in June.

For the first time at home this year, there were more than a few boos directed at the Nationals as they surrendered four runs in both the seventh and eighth innings to make it 12-0. Some fans cheered derisively when the Nationals recorded outs.

If there was any consolation to last night's laugher, it was that Washington didn't lose another game by a single run. The club has lost seven of its past eight one-run games.

"We're not in a winning mode right now," said Washington manager Frank Robinson. "Nobody in the lineup is coming through with the big hit to really get it started, to light the fuse."

Clemens, in his first pitching appearance in Washington, gave up three hits: a broken-bat single to right by Jose Guillen in the first inning, a single to right by Ryan Church in the fourth and a double to the left field wall by Guillen in the sixth.

Among the many fans who came out to see Clemens was Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. A friend of the pitcher's, Myers visited with Clemens in the clubhouse after the game.

The Nationals put runners on second in the third, fourth and sixth innings against Clemens, who had entered the game with an ERA of 1.47 -- the lowest of any pitcher through 19 starts since Pedro Martinez in 2000.

Each time, Clemens used strikeouts to get out of the innings. He finished with 10 to tie a season high.

"I shouldn't be here," Clemens said after team officials made him the focus of a post-game news conference. "The hitters should be in here. They made my job easy tonight."

It barely mattered since the Astros were shelling a Washington pitching staff that had managed to keep the team in most games this year.

"We gave Rocket a little breathing room," said Houston manager Phil Garner.

Houston's first four runs all came with two outs off starter Ryan Drese (3-3).

Houston took a 2-0 lead in the first on Lance Berkman's two-out walk and Morgan Ensberg's 26th home run of the year, establishing a club record for homers by a third baseman.

NOTES: The Nationals have moved the 380 signs on the outfield fence after doing measurements that showed the power alleys were about 15 feet longer. The survey came after players and news organizations, including The Sun and The Washington Post, questioned whether the alleys in right-center and left-center were what they were purported to be. It was found the alleys were about 15 feet longer than the signs indicated. The signs were moved to the left and right to spots where they are really 380 feet from home plate. ... First-baseman Nick Johnson, out with an injured heel, will begin a rehabilitation assignment tonight at Triple-A New Orleans.

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