Pettitte propels Astros to Game 1 win

Pettitte propels Astros to Game 1 win

ATLANTA -- During their Wild Card push through September, the Houston Astros would have loved one blowout game -- just one to offset the nightly nail-biters they played day after day after day.

But it's safe to say if manager Phil Garner had to choose between his team coming out on the high end of a blowout on, say, Sept. 25, or Oct. 5, he'd choose the latter.

Indeed, Garner was happy that the Astros' bats picked this time to make their grand entrance. In a 10-5 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, the Astros did much of their damage during a five-run eighth inning, silencing a tomahawk-chopping 40,590 at Turner Field.

"It's nice," Garner said. "So many times, things are so ununsual in this game. It's just unbelievable. We haven't had a game like this in how long?"

Answer: 21 days. Of the 30 games the Astros played from Sept. 1 to Oct. 2, 19 were decided by two or fewer runs. Four were decided by four runs. In fact, only once did the Astros get to sit back and relish a "laugher," and that was on Sept. 14, when they beat the Marlins, 10-2.

So, doing something as uncharacteristic as what they did to the Braves was a welcome surprise.

"I don't know if it was such a blowout," Jeff Bagwell said. "I'm not positive about this, but I'm pretty sure we were one batter way from Brad Lidge being in the ballgame. Nothing has come easy for this ballclub, and I don't expect it's going to be any time soon."

True. But at one point, the Astros did lead by seven. And more importantly, they took the lead in the first inning, and no matter how much the Braves threatened, the Astros never fell behind.

For most of the evening, the game was close, but the offense -- anchored by Craig Biggio and Morgan Ensberg -- went overboard with their support of Andy Pettitte, who logged his first postseason win in an Astros uniform.

Every plate appearance Biggio had, except for his last, impacted the Astros' win. He logged two hits, scored three runs, knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly and moved a runner over with a sacrifice bunt, which eventually scored a run.

Ensberg, hitting in the cleanup spot after Garner flip-flopped him and No. 3 hitter Lance Berkman, went 3-for-4 and drove in five runs.

Overall, the Astros had 11 hits -- timely hits.

"The biggest thing was we had great at-bats with men in scoring position," Adam Everett said. "We had guys hit sac flies, get big hits. ... That's something we haven't had a whole lot of early in the season."

This was definititely a night of small ball. Three hits were for extra bases, but not a single one was a homer.

"When we had big games, there were a couple home runs in there," Garner said. "To have a game where we were driving runs in, getting big hits with two outs -- we drove in a run from third with a fly ball. ... When's the last time we did that? I can't remember.

"We've executed to get them in position, but we haven't been able to complete it. Tonight, we did."

Pettitte, the beneficiary of the run support, is no stranger to this October thing. The win was the 14th of his postseason career, tying him with Thursday's starter, John Smoltz, for the Major League record.

Pettitte allowed four hits over his seven innings. He yielded a solo homer to Chipper Jones in the first frame and a two-run shot to Andruw Jones in the fourth, which brought the Braves within a run of tying the game.

"That was extremely frustrating," Pettitte said. "That put them right back in the game. Then the guys fired right back and had the big inning there late. Offensively, it was just textbook."


All-time postseason wins leaders
Rank
Pitcher
Wins
1.
Andy Pettitte
14
John Smoltz
14
3.
Tom Glavine
12
4.
Greg Maddux
11
5.
Roger Clemens
10
Whitey Ford
10
Dave Stewart
10
David Wells
10
9.
Orlando Hernandez
9
Catfish Hunter
9

Pettitte was being somewhat modest. Taking nothing away from his stellar pitching, but his at-bat in the seventh frame, at the time, appeared as clutch as his performance on the mound. He took an 0-1 pitch from Tim Hudson and lined it to the left-field wall for a ground-rule double, and when Ensberg's line drive found a hole at third, Pettitte scored, giving the Astros a 5-3 lead. It also knocked Hudson out of the game.

"We give Andy a hard time about his hitting," Bagwell said with a grin. "He gets really excited about it and he gets real down on himself when he doesn't get hits -- especially a double the opposite way. That was a huge hit for us at the time."

Said Pettitte: "I know it's shocking. It shocked me, I can promise you that.

"I'm just terrible. I hit so bad, I was like, 'I need a miracle at the plate.' I told Biggio, too, and Biggio said, 'You've got to believe.'"

The game turned into a blowout in the eighth when the Astros scored five runs in merry-go-round fashion. The frame was highlighted by Bagwell's pinch-hit, bases-loaded single to left field off Chris Reitsma, a bases-loaded walk to Ensberg and a two-run single by Orlando Palmeiro.

The Astros sent 11 men to the plate, and the Braves ran through four pitchers before they logged the final out on a Brad Ausmus strikeout.

The Braves threatened in the ninth, scoring two runs before putting runners at first and third with one out. It wasn't until Mike Gallo induced a 4-6-3 double play by Rafael Furcal that the Astros acknowledged their big win over the Braves to take a 1-0 lead in the Division Series.

"I'm sure it's not going to happen all the time, that we score 10 runs," Bagwell said. "Get three hits out of Morgan Ensberg, a bunch of walks, a couple dinkers here and there and we score 10 runs. It's not going to happen all the time, but it's a good start."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.