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Volume 68, Issue 143, Wednesday, May 28, 2003 

Sports

Clemens stuck at 299, 'Stros scuffle

The Mendoza Line

Ed De La Garza

Maybe it was too perfect a setting. A 40-year-old right-hander who wouldnit be out of place among some of the gameis all-time best took the mound at Yankee Stadium on a cold, windy, rainy Memorial Day. But he was pounded for eight runs before being pulled in the sixth inning of the Yankeesi 8-4 loss to Boston on Monday.

It wasnit the great moment in sports history some wanted, but Roger Clemens battled through the wind and an almost two-hour rain delay, tossing 133 pitches in search of his 300th win.

The game got out of hand early as the Yanks continued their recent descent into mediocrity. But Clemens still went out there trying to keep his team in the game even when it was clear he wouldnit get the win.

With the Astros still flirting with .500, the biggest Houston baseball news is way out on the East Coast. Rooting for Clemens isnit hard. While pitchers like Pedro Martinez miss scheduled starts because of "discomfort," Clemens goes out game-in, game-out. Heis as tough as they come. He may be at the twilight of his career, but Clemens can still bring it.

Clemens will have another crack at the milestone in Detroit. Itis not quite center stage, and pitching against baseballis worst team will likely mean thousands of empty seats, but heill give the Yankees every opportunity he can to win.

Itis hard to compare pitchers from different eras, and even harder to proclaim one as the greatest of all time. But in an era dominated by the long ball, itis nice to watch a pitcher about to make history.

Letis play two

Even without Sammy Sosa, the Chicago Cubs are still riding atop the National League Central Division. While most predicted theyid make their annual swoon on their most recent road trip, the Cubbies went 8-5, with Moises Alou providing some much-needed pop to the lineup.

With one of the best pitching staffs in baseball (save for Mondayis collapse against Pittsburgh), this may be the year Chicago finally stops being a loveable loser. Itis the year of the Cubs.

Now that theyive been adequately jinxed, they can proceed to tank the rest of the season as usual.

Actually, while it would bode well for Houston, it doesnit look like the Cubs are going to give the division away this year. They may get rocked for a game or two, but this team seems capable of bouncing back.

The Astros shelled Mark Prior for six runs in the first inning of last weekis game against the Cubs but couldnit touch him the rest of the way. If the Cubs had been able to string together some more hits, they probably wouldive swept the series. Itis not just hype. Prior is the best young pitcher in the majors right now. Add in Kerry Wood and the Cubs have the best one-two punch in the division.

Itis not good news for the Astros, who despite inching their way back above the .500 mark (pending their series against the Cardinals), are still two and one-half games behind the Cubs.

Itis not a particularly strong division. Ninety wins ought to be good enough to win the NL Central this year. With Houstonis pitchers still floundering and St. Louis still underachieving, saying this is the Cubsi year might not be that much of a jinx after all.

Root for the home team

What happens when one of your teamis sluggers goes 70 at-bats without driving in a run and the other has to get hot just to get back to .300? What happens when your No. 1 pitcher (who was just starting to pitch like heis capable of) goes on the injured list and the No. 2 is still struggling? If youire the Houston Astros, youire probably not very good.

About the only thing keeping the ‘Stros in the NL Central race is their relief pitchers. Getting to the seventh inning is the problem. Theyive had their share of come-from-behind wins, but they canit rely on the late rallies the whole season. Without Roy Oswalt (heis scheduled to have another throwing session today and should be good to go against the Cubs on Saturday) and a healthy Wade Miller, the Astros are going to find it hard to contend for anything other than third place.

Spending the bucks on Jeff Kent did wonders for the offense, but management did nothing to address the most glaring weakness. The Astros still donit have a legitimate No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher. If they canit find a couple of strong arms soon, it may be too late to do anything about it.

 Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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