By Kevin Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer
For a regular-season game, particularly one in late May, this one quickened the pulse before it started.
An undefeated Roger Clemens pitching for the Astros. An opportunity for the Reds to move into a first-place tie in the National League Central standings.
On a Saturday evening tailor-made for baseball - 84 degrees with blue skies and mare's tail clouds above at game time - a sellout crowd of 41,890 came to Great American Ball Park to check it out.
"It's really nice to have a home crowd like this," Reds third baseman Juan Castro said. "It makes it more exciting for us to see a lot of people in the stands."
Talk about exciting.
An 8-7 Reds win ended with Castro diving to snare a potentially game-ruining line drive by Jose Vizcaino with two runners on and two out in the ninth inning.
"It's obviously a nice win," Cincinnati manager Dave Miley said. "We made it exciting. They made it exciting.
"Castro making that play, that was huge for us."
A pair of run-scoring doubles by Reds first baseman Sean Casey and center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. with nobody out in the eighth inning broke a 6-6 tie.
Danny Graves allowed one run on three hits in the ninth as he saved his third consecutive game and major-league leading 20th this season.
Saturday's win, combined with a Cubs victory earlier in the day, created three-way tie in the NL Central between the Reds, Cubs and Astros. Cincinnati moved a season-high six games over .500 with its fourth consecutive win and seventh in eight tries.
"This team is battling," Griffey said. "Nobody gave us a chance. We just wanted to come out from the beginning of spring training and make the people of Cincinnati very proud of this baseball team.
"So far, we're having a lot of fun doing it."
The Astros overcame four-run and two-run deficits to tie the game in the fifth and seventh innings.
By doing so, they absolved Clemens of his first loss in more than eight months. The six-time Cy Young Award winner allowed six runs on nine hits, striking out eight and walking four, in five innings.
Houston tied the game 6-6 in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Richard Hidalgo, off Reds reliever Todd Jones, that scored Lance Berkman from third.
Jones (3-1) pitched two scoreless innings - the run was credited to Brian Reith - for the win.
Cincinnati regained the lead in the eighth with Casey and Griffey's help. Each smacked a run-scoring double into right field off Astros relief pitcher Brad Lidge.
Houston scored once in the ninth but stranded runners at first and second when Castro made his catch.
"I'm glad I caught it," Castro said. "I didn't know (I had it) until I held it in my glove and saw it inside."
The Reds took a 4-0 lead by the third inning, only to allow Houston tie the game in the fifth.
Cincinnati countered with two runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Second baseman D'Angelo Jimenez hit a run-scoring single to give the Reds a 5-4 lead, and pinch-hitter Jacob Cruz's ground ball allowed left fielder Adam Dunn to score and make it 6-4.
The Reds' four-run lead evaporated within two pitches in the fifth inning.
Starting pitcher Aaron Harang retired the first two batters he faced in the inning, but labored for the third out.
Houston second baseman Jeff Kent scored two with a double to right field. Harang's next pitch, the first to Berkman, landed about 20 rows up in the right field moon deck to tie the game at four.
|Griffey Jr. cf||5||0||1||1||0||2||.235|
LOB-Houston 11, Cincinnati 12. 2B-AEverett (8), JKent (13), Berkman 2 (11), Casey (16), Griffey Jr. (11), Dunn (8), LaRue (5). HR-Lamb (3), off RWagner; Berkman (9), off Harang. RBIs-JKent 2 (35), Berkman 2 (32), Ensberg (17), Hidalgo (28), Lamb (15), Casey (29), Griffey Jr. (29), Kearns (8), Dunn 2 (27), DJimenez (18), LaRue (11), JaCruz (6). S-Hummel. SF-Hidalgo. GIDP-Ausmus, Casey. DP-Houston 1, Cincinnati 1.
|Lidge L, 0-2||2||3||2||2||2||2||51||2.84|
IBB-off Lidge (Dunn) 1, off Clemens (LaRue) 1. HBP-by Lidge (Dunn), by Gallo (Casey), by Clemens (LaRue).
|RWagner H, 4||2/3||3||1||1||2||0||21||7.42|
|Reith H, 4||1/3||2||1||1||0||1||10||8.16|
|TJones W, 3-1 BS, 3||2||0||0||0||0||1||24||4.81|
|Graves S, 20||1||3||1||1||0||0||12||3.12|
Umpires-Home, Charlie Reliford; First, Jeff Kellogg; Second, Doug Eddings; Third, Dan Iassogna.
T-3:21. A-41,890 (42,271).
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