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Braves rally past Astros in Game 410/11/2004 1:36 AM ET
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Given the choice of beginning their winter vacation or continuing their postseason lives by overcoming a three-run, sixth-inning deficit at Minute Maid Park on Sunday afternoon, the Braves displayed their win-at-all-cost mentality and garnered a necessary 6-5 win over the Astros, who had won 19 straight home games.
"I think it's one of the biggest wins for our team in the past five years," said John Smoltz, who tossed two scoreless innings and provided a stellar defensive play on the way to earning his playoff-record 14th victory in Game 4 of this National League Division Series.
While the win created feelings of euphoria on Sunday, the Braves still need to win Monday's Game 5 at Turner Field against Roy Oswalt to heighten the significance of this latest comeback victory, which was realized after J.D. Drew awoke from his October slumber and delivered the go-ahead RBI single into right-center field off Russ Springer with two outs in the ninth inning.
"That felt good," said Drew, who had recorded just two infield singles in 15 at-bats in the series.
"They've pitched us tough," Drew said. "You want to come up with a big hit. Heck, you just want to come up with a hit. I don't know if it would have felt any different if there was nobody on. But it's one of those situations that will hopefully get you going."
Drew wasn't the only Braves hitting star to break out of a slump. Chipper Jones, who had gone hitless in 11 at-bats during the first three games of the series, ignited both the two-run second inning and three-run sixth with leadoff singles.
"Games like these are what are going to cause me to retire early," Jones said. "This ballclub has a lot of heart, grit and determination. The odds were stacked against us on the road, in a dome and in a hostile environment. But we never felt like we were ever out of the game."
Once Adam LaRoche's 416-foot three-run homer had erased the Astros' 5-2 lead in the sixth inning -- negating Houston's five-run second inning against Russ Ortiz -- the Braves were pretty confident that they might be able to steal a victory on a day when Roger Clemens was hoping to give his hometown a chance to witness the franchise's first postseason series victory.
"I think a win like this, like the one that we won at our place when it went into extra innings, can kind of give you an extra boost," said LaRoche, who also contributed a game-tying double in the eighth inning of Thursday's 11-inning victory in Game 2.
Other than the fact that Drew and Jones provided some production, many of the story lines in this one were the same as Thursday, when Smoltz provided three scoreless innings to back Mike Hampton's solid start.
Hampton, who left Thursday's game in the seventh inning with stiffness in his left forearm, gutted himself through a scoreless seventh inning to set the stage for yet another multi-inning performance by Smoltz.
Although he ended the game in dramatic fashion by getting Jeff Kent to ground into a double play with a runner at third, Smoltz's most memorable moment came when his hustle prevented the Astros from potentially gaining a lead in the eighth inning.
After allowing consecutive two-out singles that gave Houston runners at first and third, Smoltz saw pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro follow with a chopper that had its sights on the hole between first and second. But Marcus Giles made the stop and threw perfectly to a hustling Smoltz, who prevented the go-ahead run from scoring by just beating Palmeiro to the bag.
"That was an unbelievable play," Jones said. "[Smoltz] was like a deer in headlights, and that just shows what a great athlete he is because that guy in the box could fly."
Clemens, who was pitching on three days' rest, needed 87 pitches to complete his five-inning effort. The Braves, who stranded nine runners in the first four innings of Game 1 against The Rocket, couldn't capitalize when they had their opportunities against the 300-game winner.
When he exited, Clemens was holding a three-run lead because his offense had taken advantage of their dome and Ortiz's ineffectiveness in the second innings. The Braves right-hander lasted just three innings, allowing five earned runs on seven hits. Through the first four games of this series, Braves starting pitchers have totaled 14 innings and posted an 8.36 ERA.
The crushing blow in the Astros' five-run second inning came when Craig Biggio delivered a three-run homer. Two pitches before the veteran outfielder delivered what was his first home run in 67 postseason at-bats, he had lofted a ball that hit the roof and fell into Ortiz's glove for what appeared to be the third out.
But third base umpire Tim McClellan ruled the ball hit a beam that was located in foul territory.
After Ortiz exited, Kevin Gryboski provided two scorless innings and Antonio Alfonseca tossed a scoreless sixth. From there, Hampton and Smoltz made sure Drew had the opportunity to finally come through in the clutch.
"Today we just had keep our team in the game," Gryboski said. "Russ didn't have his good stuff today. But as a unit, the bullpen knew we had to log some innings. We knew if we kept our team in the game, our hitters would come through."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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