HOUSTON -- Considering he has six Cy Young Awards, two World Series rings and enough financial security to last him the next few millenniums, it's kind of hard to find reasons to pity Roger Clemens.
But you almost had to feel sorry for him on Sunday at Minute Maid Park, as he was pretty much the only one on the field who seemed to know what it takes to beat a last-place club.
Clemens (12-4) pitched well enough to win. And he collected two base hits. And still the Astros lost to the Expos, 5-2, sending 38,407 fans to the exit gates wondering how their team went 7-11 during a stretch of 18 home games in 25 days.
The fans wouldn't be the only ones scratching their heads.
"You saw it," manager Phil Garner said. "We just never could mount anything against them. I'm at a loss to say what it is, to tell the truth."
This one was not hard to dissect. It was a typical day, really. The offense went cold against Sun-Woo Kim, an on-again, off-again starter who was 0-2 with an ERA over 10 in the previous three games he started. The right-hander didn't even know he was starting on Sunday until the morning of the game.
Kim only yielded a solo home run to Morgan Ensberg over four frames, and the Astros fared even worse against the next three relievers the Expos sent to the mound.
The Astros did not score again until they were down to their last out against Chad Cordero in the ninth, when Orlando Palmeiro singled home Mike Lamb.
Brad Ausmus / C
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"Their bullpen shut us down -- simple as that," Brad Ausmus said. "They did not really even have a starter out there. We didn't know who was pitching against us until this morning, and their bullpen shut us down for nine innings. We couldn't beat a Little League team right now."
The Astros still had a glimmer of hope after seven, even after Lamb's error on a Brian Schneider grounder allowed two unearned runs to score.
But back-to-back home runs by Alex Gonzalez and Schneider off Dan Miceli in the eighth put the kibosh on any hopes for a comeback.
"This hurts, there's no question," Garner said. "It hurts severely, especially when we had them pitching out of the bullpen today. They didn't have a starter that they could go to."
The Astros, conversely, had their best starter on the mound.
"It's just disappointing," Clemens said. "The success that you have individually is one thing -- collectively is what we need to be doing. When I look around the locker room, in the clubhouse here, you want your hitters to have a lot of success together, have them have a lot of confidence.
Roger Clemens / P
Weight: 235 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"The guys are playing hard. I can sit here and go through all the cliches, but I'm not going to. Every step backward is very detrimental to what we're trying to do right now."
What the Astros are trying to do is capture a Wild Card berth, a goal that appears to be slowly fading. Depending on the results of Sunday night's Cubs-Giants matchup, the Astros could begin the workweek with a seven-game deficit in the standings.
And there are only 51 games left to play.
"We still have plenty of games against teams in our own division," Lance Berkman said. "Anything can happen. There have certainly been crazier deficits overcome than we have now. But we're not going to overcome it by playing sub-.500 baseball."
"It's not pretty," Garner said. "We have to go on a big win streak. Instead of having to win eight out of 10, we have to win 10 out of 10. Is it impossible? Certainly not. But we have to make some breaks. At times, we're looking for breaks. We've got to make some breaks of our own. We've got to have some things happen on the plate and the mound for us to get there."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.