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Astros' nine-game win streak ends as James bests Clemens

Sep 30, 2006 - 2:24 AM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- In what could have been Roger Clemens' last appearance on the mound, rookie Chuck James played spoiler and hurt the Houston Astros in the playoff race.

Clemens struck out seven in six effective innings but was outdueled by James as the Astros had their season-high nine-game winning streak snapped with a 4-1 setback to the Atlanta Braves.

Houston (81-79) fell 1 1/2 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals (82-77) in the National League Central Division. St. Louis posted a 10-5 victory over Milwaukee on Friday.

"We still have some baseball left to play," Clemens said. "Standing here with two games left and being able to say that is pretty nice."

With speculation of his retirement at hand, Clemens (7-6) may have pitched his final game if the Astros fail to catch the Cardinals in the standings. Reminiscent of last season, the 44-year-old righthander has not decided if he will return for a 24th campaign.

A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens produced a solid outing, giving up two runs - one earned - and six hits. He did not issue a walk and threw 61 of 94 pitches for strikes.

"Clemens and Chuckie (James), the game was all about them," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Chuckie was as good as he's been all year. Roger proved that he could pitch in any big game."

Clemens' evening ended when he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. The fans applauded the future Hall of Famer, who stepped out of the dugout and tipped his cap before heading to the clubhouse.

"It was great," Clemens said of the ovation. "I already got my stuff underneath and skipper told me to come out."

"I've got a lot of respect for that man," said Chipper Jones, who also applauded Clemens from his third base position. "I represented our country (in the World Baseball Classic) this spring and I got to know what he's like, and my respect grew. He's got 350 wins and half-a-bazillion strikeouts. He deserves a tip of the cap from everyone in the park."

James (11-4) bounced back nicely after being rocked for six runs and seven hits in a 9-8 loss to Colorado on Sunday. The lefthander threw six scoreless frames before surrendering his lone run - a solo homer by Craig Biggio in the seventh.

He struck out a season high-tying eight in seven innings while allowing four hits and two walks.

"It was unbelievable," said James, who was two-years-old when Clemens made his major league debut in 1984. "Just being near the end of his career and at the end of my rookie year, it's awesome. I don't know what to say. It was awesome to play against him, and to get a win against him was even better."

"For Chuckie, it doesn't matter (who's pitching)," Cox said. "It could be (Sandy) Koufax or (Don) Drysdale. He's a special kid."

The Braves took some pressure off James in the sixth before stretching the lead two innings later.

Pete Orr led off the sixth with an infield single, moved to third on Edgar Renteria's base hit to left-center and scored to make it 1-0 when first baseman Lance Berkman misplayed Jones' grounder near the line.

"I was going to run inside the base line to try to make the throw as hard as possible," Jones said. "It looked like (Berkman) didn't really look up at me. I thought he looked up at home plate and took his eye off the ball.

"He was charging hard," Clemens said of Berkman. "(Going home) was going to be his play. He had a chance and the play was to go home."

Andruw Jones capped the frame with an RBI single to center for a two-run edge. It was the slugger's career-high 129th RBI, surpassing last season's total.

"When you have an inning start off like that, you have to battle back strong," Clemens said. "I made some pitches and we were fortunate to get out of the inning with two runs."

Biggio halved the deficit in the following inning with his 21st homer. But Renteria and Chipper Jones pushed the margin to 4-1 in the eighth with back-to-back blasts to center against reliever Fernando Nieve.

In the ninth, Bob Wickman allowed consecutive two-out singles by Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus before striking out Aubrey Huff to earn his 17th save since joining the Braves.

Clemens' strikeout of Chipper Jones in the third inning was the 4,600th of his career. He trails just Nolan Ryan (5,714) on the all-time list.

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