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Twins' Liriano burns Astros, Clemens in Rocket's first start of '06

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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HOUSTON -- Roger Clemens was upstaged by a rookie almost half his age.

Francisco Liriano, Minnesota's 22-year-old phenom, pitched seven scoreless innings to lead the Twins to a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Thursday night in Clemens' much-anticipated debut.

Beginning his 23rd major league season, Clemens (0-1) was looking for his 342nd win. But instead it was Liriano, only seven months old when Clemens started his big league career, that earned his eighth victory.

The 43-year-old Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, left after throwing 100 pitches in five innings. It was his first major league start since leaving Game 1 of the World Series exactly eight months ago with a strained hamstring. He allowed six hits and two runs while striking out four and walking two.

"It was positive," Clemens said. "My body felt better than expected and I hope and expect to get stronger each time I get out there."

Liriano (7-1) gave up just four hits in eight innings and didn't allow a run until Jason Lane's two-run homer in the eighth, helping the Twins to their ninth win in 10 games and their fourth straight series victory.

Joe Nathan worked the ninth for his 11th save.

The sellout crowd of 43,769 was the largest in the history of Houston's ballpark.

Clemens, who wears jersey No. 22, re-signed with the Astros on May 31 for a one-year contract worth $22,000,022. Since he's joining the team late, he'll get a portion of that amount -- about $12.25 million. He had three tuneup starts in the minors before joining the Astros.

Liriano faced the minimum through the first six innings, thanks to double plays in three of them. He walked Craig Biggio leading off the seventh before retiring three straight batters.

It was the longest outing of the season for Liriano, who struck out a career-high 11 batters in his last start. He fanned seven and walked two Thursday.

Clemens' early departure was likely precipitated by his struggles in the third inning. He gave up an RBI double to Jason Kubel and a run-scoring single to Michael Cuddyer.

"I'm disappointed. There was one pitch I'd like to have back," Clemens said, referring to Kubel's double. "Other than that, it was just a good battle. It was a good challenge for me."

The Rocket then walked Justin Morneau, sending catcher Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jim Hickey to the mound for a short chat. Clemens made 35 pitches in the first two innings combined, but had thrown 38 more by the time he struck out Torii Hunter to end the third.

"I had that one long inning and I was trying to make a point to work fast and see how winded I could get and it worked out fine," Clemens said. "I really didn't feel like I was sitting on my back leg or collapsing. Overall, it was just good to get back out there."

The Twins extended their lead to 3-0 in the sixth when Justin Morneau homered off Russ Springer. Hunter had an RBI single in the eighth.

In the fifth, Clemens lumbered over to cover first base on a 3-6-1 double play. He pointed at the umpire to make sure he got the call before slowly retreating to the mound.

Early on, he showed his signature pinpoint control. Two of Clemens' first three pitches were 91 mph fastballs for strikes. On the fourth, Luis Castillo hit a chopper over the mound. Clemens jumped to glove it, but dropped the ball on the way down and couldn't scoop it up before Castillo reached first base safely. Clemens was charged with an error.

The next batter grounded into a double play before Joe Mauer, who leads the majors in hitting, struck out.

This game continued a trend from last year as the Astros failed to give Clemens much run support. The Rocket was 13-8 with a career-best 1.87 ERA in 32 starts last season, but Houston was shut out in nine of his starts and scored two runs or less in five others.

Clemens has the best record of any pitcher against the Twins (23-13), but he wasn't able to improve it. He did continue his domination of Hunter, though. Hunter faced Clemens twice, with a flyout and a strikeout, to fall to 0-for-22 with 13 strikeouts in his career against the right-hander.

Fittingly, it was University of Texas Night at Minute Maid Park as its favorite former baseball player took the mound. The sellout crowd that gave him a standing ovation when he took the mound, was peppered with Clemens jerseys, from both the Astros and Texas, and many fans held signs.

Among the most clever was a man in what looked to be a space suit, holding one that read: "That's a Roger Houston Our Rocket Has Landed." Another read: "Clemens is proof the 40s is the new 30s."

Between the first and second innings a video segment played on the stadium screen featuring Astros pitchers discussing Clemens' performance when he came out of the bullpen to pitch in Houston's 18-inning playoff win over the Braves last season.

Clemens, an 11-time All-Star and winner of the 1986 AL MVP Award, has a career record of 341-173 with 4,506 strikeouts. He's the winningest living pitcher and ranks second in career strikeouts behind Nolan Ryan (5,714).

Notes

  • The Astros purchased Clemens' contract from Triple-A Round Rock before the game.
  • Cuddyer extended his hitting streak to seven games.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
 
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Roger Clemens throws 100 pitches in five innings, including 38 in a troublesome third.  (Getty Images)
Roger Clemens throws 100 pitches in five innings, including 38 in a troublesome third. (Getty Images)

Players of the Game
Minnesota

F. Liriano
IP 8.0
H 4
ER 2
BB 2
K 7
Minnesota

J. Morneau
AB 3
R 1
H 3
HR 1
RBI 1
 
Minnesota Twins
Luis Castillo, 2B5110002 .277
Jason Kubel, LF5121021 .292
    Joe Nathan, P0000000 .000
Joe Mauer, C4110012 .375
Michael Cuddyer, RF4011011 .271
Justin Morneau, 1B3131100 .275
Torii Hunter, CF4011013 .262
Terry Tiffee, 3B3000102 .250
    Nick Punto, 3B0000000 .276
Jason Bartlett, SS4010034 .414
Francisco Liriano, P1000110 .200
   a- Lew Ford, PH-LF1000000 .226
Totals3441043915 
a-flied out for Liriano in the 9th
Batting
2B - Jason Kubel (3, Clemens), Justin Morneau (13, Clemens)
HR - Justin Morneau (18, Springer)
SH - Francisco Liriano (1)
RBI - Jason Kubel (18), Michael Cuddyer (38), Justin Morneau (58), Torii Hunter (39)
2-OUT RBI - Michael Cuddyer (22)
SB - Luis Castillo (7, 2nd base off Clemens/Ausmus)
Team LOB - 7
Fielding
DP - Bartlett-Castillo-Morneau, Tiffee-Castillo-Morneau, Castillo-Bartlett-Morneau
Minnesota Twins
Francisco Liriano (W,7-1) 8422271 2.17
Joe Nathan (S,11) 1100020 2.03
Pitches-Strikes - Francisco Liriano 97-71, Joe Nathan 18-12
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Francisco Liriano 7-7
Batters Faced - Francisco Liriano 27, Joe Nathan 4
Houston Astros
Craig Biggio, 2B3000120 .273
Chris Burke, CF4010011 .320
Lance Berkman, 1B4010002 .311
Morgan Ensberg, 3B4000022 .245
Preston Wilson, LF2120100 .284
Jason Lane, RF3112002 .213
Brad Ausmus, C3000020 .275
Adam Everett, SS3000010 .235
Roger Clemens, P1000010 .000
    Russ Springer, P0000000 .000
   a- Willy Taveras, PH1000000 .266
    Fernando Nieve, P0000000 .133
   b- Eric Bruntlett, PH1000000 .274
    Trever Miller, P0000000 .000
Totals29252297 
a-flied out for Springer in the 6th
b-popped out for Nieve in the 8th
Batting
HR - Jason Lane (11, Liriano)
RBI - Jason Lane 2 (29)
Team LOB - 2
Fielding
DP - Biggio-Everett-Berkman, Berkman-Everett-Clemens, Nieve-Everett-Berkman
E - Roger Clemens (1, Misplayed grounder)
Houston Astros
Roger Clemens (L,0-1) 5622240 3.60
Russ Springer 1111011 3.12
Fernando Nieve 2311130 4.70
Trever Miller 1000010 4.29
Pitches-Strikes - Roger Clemens 100-59, Russ Springer 16-10, Fernando Nieve 34-21, Trever Miller 18-13
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Roger Clemens 7-3, Russ Springer 1-1, Fernando Nieve 1-1
Batters Faced - Roger Clemens 22, Russ Springer 4, Fernando Nieve 9, Trever Miller 3
Game Information
Attendance - 43769
Game Time - 2:42
Temperature - 74
Umpires - Home - Jeff Kellogg, First Base - Jerry Meals, Second Base - Andy Fletcher, Third Base - Mike Reilly