HOUSTON -- Roger Clemens' back was bothering him so much Wednesday that an emergency starter went out to the bullpen to loosen up with him before the game -- just in case.
Then, about an hour and a half before he was due on the mound, Clemens talked over his status with doctors and decided to try pitching through the pain. The Philadelphia Phillies could only wish he'd been more cautious.
Clemens was far from dominant, yet still managed to pitch seven effective innings to help the Houston Astros beat the Phillies 3-2 for their 10th win in 11 games.
"I was fortunate," said Clemens, who allowed runners in five innings but just two runs. "Every time I went out for the warmups, it was stiff. But it came around and I got better."
Clemens (9-4) gave up six hits, walked two and struck out four. He allowed only a run with two outs in the first inning and another in the fourth, taking his major league-leading ERA up from 1.40 to 1.46 while earning his sixth win in seven decisions.
"It took him about three or four innings to get loose, but after that he was vintage Rocket," catcher Brad Ausmus said. "In the first inning, I wasn't sure if he was going to be able to make it. But after the first couple, he told me he was getting better and better, so I knew we were going to be all right."
Clemens said after straining his back around 2 p.m. Tuesday - he didn't say how -- that he had sharp pains. By game time Wednesday, he felt "more of a dull pain." Although doctors were concerned that pitching might make it worse, they figured he wasn't likely to hurt it any worse. He also was relieved to know he had an extra day off before his next start.
He had only two 1-2-3 innings, and needed great defense for both, but the Phillies still couldn't sustain a rally. He left after throwing 103 pitches, getting replaced by a pinch-hitter.
"I'm sure I'll have a little more than my normal stiffness tomorrow, but we'll deal with it," Clemens said.
Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said he could tell Clemens didn't have his good stuff. His players, however, couldn't.
"Maybe it looked that way from the dugout," said David Bell, who went 0-for-4, "but I thought it looked awfully good."
The Astros gave Clemens the lead in the bottom of the second, with help from Phillies starter Vicente Padilla.
Orlando Palmeiro doubled in the first run and moved to third on an infield single by Adam Everett. With one out, Ausmus surprised Philadelphia by bunting, but popped it up.
"I knew he'd have to dive to get it," Ausmus said. "I was just hoping he wouldn't."
He didn't. Instead of making the catch and an inning-ending double play, replays showed the ball went between Padilla's hand and his upturned glove. He still threw out Ausmus while sitting down, but Palmeiro scored and Houston led the rest of the game.
"We were looking for that squeeze," Manuel said. "If he catches it, it's a double play and a different game. But that's the way things are going for them. When you're going good, it seems like everything goes your way."
Houston's Lance Berkman made it 3-1 with an RBI single the next inning and Brad Lidge pitched the ninth for his 24th save in 27 chances.
"It's always special sealing a win for Roger," Lidge said. "The way he battled tonight was extra incentive. We were definitely aware of his back problems."
The Astros beat Philadelphia for the ninth straight time and improved to 18-2 in their last 20 games at home. Most significantly, they moved one game behind the Washington Nationals in the wild-card race.
For the Phillies, the only solace in getting swept by Houston for a third straight series was seeing their equivalent of a big offensive night. Two runs marked their most in five games and only the second time in their last seven that they've scored more than one.
Chase Utley got them going with a double with two outs in the first, then scored on a single by Bobby Abreu. Pat Burrell then walked, but Clemens ended the rally by getting Ryan Howard to ground out.
Burrell walked again to open the fourth inning and moved to third on a single by Howard. After staying there on a fly to center field by Bell, Burrell scored on a fly to right field by Mike Lieberthal, barely beating the throw from Palmeiro. Padilla struck out to end the threat.
Padilla (5-9) gave up three runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked one.
Houston rookie Willy Taveras bunted for a single, giving him 21 such hits for the season. It also was his 51st infield single, breaking the club record Craig Biggio set in 1992.
Manuel returned after missing the two previous games to attend his sister's funeral in Virginia. ... In honor of Craig Biggio becoming the modern day hit-by-pitch leader, fans received a poster of him surrounded by one ball for each time he was plunked and there was a giant box of bandages on the field before the game. ... This was Biggio's 2,507th career game, tying Astros batting coach Gary Gaetti for 40th all-time.