PrintPrint © 2004 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

Astros rout Braves in opener
10/06/2004 7:17 PM ET
ATLANTA -- The Houston Astros know the best way to shed their postseason struggles is simply to win a playoff series. They took the first step toward that goal at Turner Field on Wednesday, defeating the Atlanta Braves, 9-3, to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

Wearing the stigma of a 1-9 postseason record versus the Braves since 1997, the Astros continued to validate their recent reputation as the hottest team in baseball. On a rare day that Roger Clemens wasn't at his best, the offense was.

And that's what Jeff Bagwell would like to focus on -- a playoff-game win on the heels of the Astros' 36-10 run to close the regular season, rather than the 0-for-4 run that is also known as Houston's streak in postseason play from 1997-99 and 2001.

"It's important to continue the momentum we had coming in," Bagwell said. "Our club, it was well documented how well we played down the stretch. And to come in Game 1 and continue that momentum and good play, that continues a great feeling for us."

It sure beats the not-so-great feeling Bagwell had during the playoffs in the past, all of which added up to a .174 batting average in 14 postseason games. That's probably why his 2-for-5 night and RBI double on Wednesday was such a hot topic in the clubhouse after the game.

"I swear to God, I could go 0-for-5 tonight and we win the game, I don't care," Bagwell said. "I just want to win. I think this team has got a great chance. We're playing great. Yeah, I enjoyed being part of the offense, no question about it. I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't enjoying being part of the offense. But this is not about me and my postseason struggles. This isn't '97, '98 or '99. This is 2004."

Houston clubbed four home runs during a 13-hit attack that included contributions from nearly everyone in the starting lineup, including Clemens, who drew a two-out walk in the sixth.

The Astros' 13 hits tied a franchise record in a nine-inning playoff game. The Astros also recorded 13 hits during Game 1 versus the Braves in 1999 to lift the team to a 6-1 win at Turner Field.

While the typical cast of characters pulled its weight -- the top four hitters were 8-for-18 -- surprisingly, No. 8 hitter Brad Ausmus was the one who started the offense rolling with a solo homer off Jaret Wright in the third that tied the game, 1-1. The Astros scored three more in that inning, behind Bagwell's double and a two-run homer by Lance Berkman.

"Yeah, I enjoyed being part of the offense, no question about it. I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't enjoying being part of the offense. But this is not about me and my postseason struggles. This isn't '97, '98 or '99. This is 2004."
-- Jeff Bagwell

"It seemed like things weren't going our way the first couple innings, and all of a sudden Brad hits a big home run and we get right back in it," Berkman said. "I think everybody took a deep breath and said, 'All right, we've had a decent offensive showing.' Four runs is a lot when you've got Roger on the mound."

"I think they saw me hit a home run and figured if I could do it, anybody could do it," quipped Ausmus, who had just five homers in 403 at-bats during the regular season.

Carlos Beltran, playing in his first postseason, was 3-for-3 and scored three runs. He launched a 407-foot two-run homer off Wright, contributing to a three-run fifth that put the Astros ahead, 6-1.

Beltran was hit in the right side by a Juan Cruz pitch to lead off the seventh, and after a brief and somewhat heated exchange between pitcher and hitter, Beltran was checked out by head athletic trainer Dave Labossiere and remained in the game.

However, the center fielder did not return for the Braves' half of the seventh. Berkman replaced him in center and Jason Lane entered the game in right. Lane homered on the first pitch off Chris Reitsma in the ninth to give the Astros their final, and largest, lead of the game.

The award for the best aim -- or worst, for 41,464 Braves fans -- goes to Morgan Ensberg, who lined base hits off the shins of two Atlanta pitchers. The second, a liner off Cruz in the seventh, scored Beltran from third to give the Astros a five-run lead.

   Roger Clemens  /   P
Born: 08/04/62
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 235 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Despite tying a career high with six walks and taking more than 60 pitches to get through the first three innings, Clemens, recovering from a stomach virus, earned his first career Game 1 postseason win, holding the Braves to three runs -- two earned -- over seven frames.

He walked six, but only once did one of the free passes lead to a run. Even when he issued three walks in the third, he was able to catch Charles Thomas looking at a called third strike to end the inning.

"You try and take command of the game and get that momentum and hang on to it," Clemens said. "I was able to wiggle my way through a few innings there, and we put some numbers on the board, and here we go."

Another game of this kind might just shift the attention away from the Astros' past postseason struggles and force critics to look at the present. But not yet.

"This is a different club," Bagwell said. "2001 was a long time ago. Anything can happen in the postseason. I know the history between the two clubs. It's just history. That's all it is.

"This is a new year with a new cast of players. This is one of the best teams I've ever been on. We have a ton of talent in our lineup. I think everybody has a lot of faith in this club."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros Homepage   |