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Clemens, Astros stifle Cincy#039;s bats; Reds worst first half record in 71 years

CINCINNATI (AP) - Roger Clemens rarely needs help from his opponents. He got some from the Cincinnati Reds, though.

Clemens threw seven shutout innings for his 335th win and got two hits as the Houston Astros sent the sloppy Reds to their worst first-half record in 71 years with a 9-0 victory Sunday.

''It was a good game for us,'' said Clemens, who wanted to pitch the eighth. ''We played two games yesterday. They don't need to protect me. I'm the old goat. Let them protect the young guys.''

Clemens (7-3) allowed four hits and one walk with four strikeouts, lowering his major league-leading ERA to 1.41. He has allowed just one run in 46 innings over seven starts on the road. He also drove in a run with a single and hit a ground-rule double.

''I expect it,'' Astros manager Phil Garner said. ''That's the way he pitches every game. I've seen it for a whole year now. That's the way he pitches, and he's hitting a lot of them, too. He takes pride in everything he does - hitting, hunting, golf, blackjack, whatever you have, he wants to beat you. Perhaps you're seeing the greatest right-hander who ever pitched.''

Brad Ausmus delivered run-scoring singles in each of his first two at-bats and Willy Taveras tied his career high with four hits, including three infield singles, as the Astros built a 4-0 lead with four unearned runs on the way to their third win in the four-game series and fifth win of a seven-game road trip.

Morgan Ensberg hit his 22nd homer and Lance Berkman had a two-run double for Houston, just 14-29 on the road.

The Reds have lost seven of eight. They are 31-50, their worst record after 81 games since the 1934 Reds were 27-54 on their way to finishing 52-99.