By Joel Anderson
The Associated Press
HOUSTON - Jimy Williams was serenaded with boos and Jeff Kent failed to lend a helping hand when Roger Clemens needed it most.
That was the start of a rough night for many of Houston's biggest stars Tuesday in the All-Star game, an overall disappointing display that sapped much of the hometown crowd's enthusiasm.
Kent's error on Jason Giambi's two-out grounder in the first inning led to Alfonso Soriano's three-run homer, chasing Clemens from the mound at the end of the inning and helping the American League to a 9-4 victory.
The sellout crowd of 41,886 at Minute Maid Park came ready for a night of glorious performances from Astros such as Clemens, Kent, Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman and a homegrown star in Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford.
Instead, like many Astros games this season, the fans left disappointed.
The night got off to a rocky start when Williams, the Astros' embattled manager, was booed during pregame introductions. Williams doffed his cap to the crowd, but was clearly embarrassed by the display.
"That doesn't surprise me. The manager always gets the blame," Beltran said. "I think Jimy is doing the best he can. There's nothing else he can do."
That certainly didn't go unnoticed by Astros owner Drayton McLane and general manager Gerry Hunsicker, who are currently contemplating Williams' future. The Astros are 10 1/2 games behind first-place St. Louis in the NL Central - the first time they've faced a double-digit deficit in the standings at the break in 11 seasons.
Speculation about Williams' job has intensified during the All-Star break because the Astros were extremely disappointing in the first half of a year in which they were a preseason favorite to go to the World Series.
Kent added to the Astros' woes by bobbling Giambi's grounder in the first with the NL already trailing 3-0. The crowd collectively groaned at the error. Derek Jeter singled and Soriano homered to left field, extending the AL's lead to six runs.
Clemens ended the inning with a strikeout of Mark Mulder, and one of his worst nights on the mound was finally over. He allowed six runs and five hits, a complete turnaround from his scoreless, three-inning All-Star debut at Houston in 1986.
Back then, he was a 23-year-old phenom with the Boston Red Sox. On Tuesday, The Rocket, now 41, finally looked old.
"Yeah, I put our guys in a hole," Clemens said.
Kent and Beltran singled and scored in the fourth during the NL's three-run inning. Both finished 1-for-2.
Meanwhile, Berkman, who dazzled the crowd a night before with his awesome power in the Home Run Derby, went hitless in two at-bats.
Given the numerous appearances that Clemens and other Astros had to make around the city throughout the weekend, Berkman said it wasn't surprising that they all flopped Tuesday.
Clemens "has got to be exhausted. I know I am," Berkman said. "He's been pulled in so many ways the last few days."
Crawford also struggled in his return to his hometown, striking out and grounding out in his only two at-bats.
"He just had a couple of butterflies," said his brother, Cory, who watched from the stands with more than 20 family members and friends. "I know that he was very nervous. I'll give him some leeway."
Afterward, Crawford admitted that a night full of partying and a day full of obligations, including a "Carl Crawford's Day" ceremony at City Hall, left him tired at the game's start.
"I've learned you've got to limit stuff you do," Crawford said. "The next time I'm not going to try to please everybody and get more rest."
Many fans headed for the exits at the start of the eighth, even as the public address announcer reminded the crowd that "don't forget, there's still two innings left."
It was too late. The hometown crowd had seen enough.
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