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Braves drop NLDS opener10/06/2004 7:20 PM ET
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- After experiencing an afternoon filled with lost opportunities, the Braves now find themselves in the same unenviable land that they have visited each of the past two years.
Because they weren't able to take advantage of the numerous opportunities afforded by Roger Clemens and overcome Jaret Wright's shaky performance, the Braves were forced to swallow a 9-3 loss to the Astros in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Turner Field on Wednesday.
"We should have took advantage when we had the opportunities," Andruw Jones said. "Unfortunately we didn't. That was the ballgame right there."
Although Wright surrendered three homers and struggled through a decisive four-run third inning, the Braves still had plenty of early opportunities to negate their ace's struggles. But they stranded 10 runners through the first five innings and consequently lost the first game of the NLDS for the third consecutive year.
"We're down, 1-0," Marcus Giles said. "The simple thing is, we need to win three of the next four games. We've done that lots of times this year. I don't think there's any reason to put any added pressure on ourselves. But I think it's no secret, tomorrow we need to get it done."
History isn't on the Braves' side as they continue to set their sights on advancing. In the franchise's history, there have been only three times when the Braves lost Game 1 and battled back to win the series. Those occurrences came in the 1957 World Series, the 1991 NLCS and the 1999 NLDS.
This resilient Braves bunch, which is often compared to the 1991 squad, still has hopes of doing what the 1999 team did against the Astros in that aforementioned NLDS. But they are aware that just three NL teams have ever lost the first game of the NLDS and come back to win that series.
"Tomorrow is a must-win for us," Chipper Jones said. "I expect everybody to bounce back and come out with the same energy that they did today and get it done."
While Clemens was generous, the Braves can't expect the same out of the dominant Roy Oswalt, who will serve as their opposition in Game 2. And if the Braves don't leave Atlanta with at least one win, they'll be down 2-0 heading to Houston, where the Astros have won 18 straight games.
"You don't want to put yourself in position where you have to go to Houston and win both games," Johnny Estrada said. "Tomorrow is a must-win situation for us."
All this must-win talk might not have been necessary had the Braves taken advantage of Clemens, who allowed just three runs -- two earned -- in six innings, despite issuing six walks. Although they had at least two runners on base in each of the first four innings, the Braves' only run during that span came courtesy of Estrada's first-inning sacrifice fly.
"I think if there was ever going to be a day where you were going to get [Clemens], it would have been today," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team hasn't won a postseason series since defeating the Astros in the 2001 Division Series.
The Braves, who had won nine of their previous 10 postseason games against the Astros, had the bases loaded in the first and third innings. In the second and fourth innings, they had two runners on with one out. Yet their second run of the game didn't come until Andruw Jones homered with two outs in the fifth. By the end of the day, the Braves had stranded 12 runners, matching the Division Series record they set in 1995 and accomplished again in 2002 and 2003.
"That's Roger Clemens," Andruw Jones said. "He can pitch out of jams real quick and he did. That's why we lost the game."
Clemens issued back-to-back walks to load the bases with two outs in the third inning. But after watching Clemens throw eight of his previous 10 pitches out of the strike zone, Charles Thomas swung at the first pitch of a pivotal at-bat that resulted in an inning-ending strikeout.
"He's a tough pitcher, even when he's not good," Andruw Jones said of Clemens. "That's why he beat us. He was using his splitter a lot, and we just couldn't lay off."
The offensive struggles, which were highlighted by hitless performances by Chipper Jones and J.D. Drew, only compounded the troubles encountered by Wright, who was charged with six earned runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.
"It's a bad feeling," said Wright, who had allowed just four earned runs in the third inning all year and had only surrendered three homers in a game three other times in his career, with the most recent occurrence coming pre-shoulder problems in 1999.
Wright, who was pitching for the first time since taking a line drive of his right foot on Sept. 28, allowed just one hit in the first two innings. But Carlos Beltran, who singled in the first inning, was just heating up. The Astros center fielder prolonged the third inning with a two-out single and ended Wright's day with a two-run homer in the fifth.
"I think Jaret pitched good," Andruw Jones said. "He just made a couple of mistakes and the guys took advantage. That's baseball. They took advantage and we didn't. Tomorrow's a different day. We just have to go out there and play better."
Brad Ausmus' first-pitch homer to begin the third was a foreboding sign of things to come. After retiring the next two batters, Wright saw Beltran deliver a flare into shallow center and score on a Jeff Bagwell double. The crushing blow in the Astros' two-out rally that resulted in their four-run third inning came courtesy of Lance Berkman's two-run homer.
"We had our chances," Cox said. "Two-out hits -- they got theirs, we didn't get ours. Sometimes they're hard to come by, and tonight we didn't get them."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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