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NL: Clemens begins sharp

By Wire services
Published April 8, 2004

HOUSTON - Hard to imagine a better homecoming for Roger Clemens.

Looking nothing like a guy who had called it quits, Clemens dominated Barry Bonds and the Giants, holding them to one hit over seven scoreless innings in his Houston debut and pitching the Astros past San Francisco 10-1 Wednesday night.

"It sure was nice coming home," Clemens said. "It was just real enjoyable."

Only Ray Durham's clean single to centerfield in the third inning prevented a most special night at Minute Maid Park from becoming historic.

Boosted by an emotional talk with former boss George Steinbrenner, Clemens posted his 311th victory and tied former teammate and mentor Tom Seaver for 16th on the career list.

"It's nice to get the first one underway," Clemens said. "It's been a long time coming since I first decided to play."

Not a bad comeback for a guy who retired - albeit for only 78 days - after last season. At that time, it appeared the standing ovation he drew from Florida Marlins players and fans in Game 4 of the World Series would be his farewell.

Instead, a sellout crowd of 42,863 that included former President Bush and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, plus family members and friends in Clemens' suite, began cheering even before the first pitch of his NL debut.

"I was just hoping my energy level would stay at a high level and it did," Clemens said.

Pitching just 20 minutes from his house, the setting was certainly different as the 41-year-old Rocket launched his 21st season after stops with Boston, Toronto and the New York Yankees.

But while it looked and sounded different - a star on his cap and Deep in the Heart of Texas playing during the seventh-inning stretch - it was vintage Clemens on the mound.

And this, too: He delivered a hit-and-run single in his first at-bat. He kept the ball as a souvenir.

BRAVES 18, METS 10: Adam LaRoche got the first two hits of his big-league career during an 11-run inning for host Atlanta. Johnny Estrada and pinch-hitter Julio Franco also had two hits in the fourth - the biggest inning for the Braves since they scored a team-record 13 runs against Houston on Sept. 20, 1972. LaRoche also got his first RBI. It's the fourth time the Mets have allowed that many runs in an inning, and the first time since April 1, 1997, against San Diego. Chipper Jones added a two-run homer as Atlanta bounced back from Tuesday's 7-2 loss in the opener for both teams. Every starter for the Braves had a hit except Rafael Furcal.

EXPOS 3, MARLINS 2: Claudio Vargas allowed four hits in six innings, and Carl Everett and Orlando Cabrera each homered for visiting Montreal. It was a rare victory against starter Brad Penny, who has beaten the Expos more than anyone in the last five seasons. It also snapped Florida's seven-game winning streak at home against Montreal. The two long balls were all the Expos needed against Penny, who allowed a team-high 21 homers last season. Everett hit a two-run shot to center in the first with Jose Vidro aboard, and Cabrera added a solo shot in the sixth.

REDS 3, CUBS 1: Ken Griffey Jr. hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat of the season for host Cincinnati. Adam Dunn also homered off Greg Maddux, a four-time Cy Young winner trying to reach more milestones and more playoffs with the long-suffering franchise that got him started. On his big night, Maddux was eclipsed by another 30-something star looking for a throwback season. Griffey, who missed the season opener because of a strained calf, hit his 482nd career homer to put the Reds up 3-0 in the third and leave the pro-Cubs crowd in a funk. Danny Graves gave up a two-out homer to Derrek Lee while getting his first save.

PHILLIES 5, PIRATES 4: Visiting Philadelphia scored twice in the eighth to cap a rally. After losing 2-1 to Jose Mesa, their former closer, and the Pirates on Monday, this was more like the Phillies scripted it when they assembled a team widely predicted to unseat the Braves and Marlins in the East. Their bullpen was effective and they had just enough timely hits. With the Pirates up 4-3, Mike Lieberthal singled and Jimmy Rollins doubled to start the eighth. Brian Boehringer, booed on nearly every pitch, then walked David Bell and pinch-hitter Ricky Ledee in succession to tie it.

CARDINALS 9, BREWERS 4: Scott Rolen capped a five-run rally in the seventh inning with a three-run home run to pace host St. Louis. The Cardinals overcame a shaky debut from Woody Williams, who threw 82 pitches in three innings, and some shoddy defense to beat a team that nicked them for 15 runs the first two games. Jim Edmonds and Rolen each hit their first homers of the season for the Cardinals, who stumbled out of the gate against a rebuilt team that went 68-94 last year. Wes Helms had three hits with two RBIs for the Brewers.

[Last modified April 8, 2004, 01:35:43]


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