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Ensberg steps up as run producer

Ensberg steps up as run producer

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ATLANTA -- Jeff Bagwell was out of the Astros lineup because of a shoulder injury. Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent were out of the lineup, period.

Somebody needed to step up alongside Lance Berkman this season to be the Astros' RBI guys. By about May, as Bagwell sees it, Morgan Ensberg became that guy.

"It clicked around May this year that he could drive the baseball," Bagwell said after Houston's big Game 1 win over Atlanta in the National League Division Series. "Since then, his confidence is way up and he's become a big cog in our lineup."

When the Astros' postseason began Wednesday, Ensberg was half the motor. He drove in at least one run in four of his five plate appearances and accounted for half of Houston's offense in a 10-5, tone-setting win at Turner Field.

With five RBIs, Ensberg tied the career high he set June 28 at Colorado, tied an Astros playoff record, and he would have tied the National League Division Series record had the Cardinals' Reggie Sanders not driven in six runs on Tuesday in St. Louis.

"The ability was there, but it had to come from Morgan," Bagwell said. "Two years ago, he had a real great run for a couple months and hit a bunch of home runs. Then last year, he didn't hit as many home runs, didn't drive the ball as much."

In 2005, Ensberg has become the total package.

He hit 36 home runs and led the Astros with 101 RBIs, a 53-percent jump from his career-high 66 in 2004. He became the first third baseman and 14th player in Houston history with at least 100 RBIs in a season, and the team went 42-18 when Ensberg drove in at least one run.

"I hope it continues," said manager Phil Garner, who had been batting Ensberg third in recent weeks. "I didn't feel like he had been swinging the bat as well as I've seen him swing it in the past, and to see him come into the first game of the playoffs and have a game of this magnitude was big for him, and it was big for us, too. He put a lot of runs on the board and it turns out we needed most of them."

In last year's five-game NLDS against the Braves, Ensberg batted .368 with five RBIs, tied with Bagwell for second most on the team behind an out-of-this-world Beltran.

But the 2004 Astros offense is long gone. Bagwell came back early from shoulder surgery to serve exclusively as a pinch-hitter (he drove in a run Wednesday), but Beltran and Kent exited via free agency.

That left the switch-hitting Berkman and Ensberg batting in the Nos. 3-4 spots on Wednesday. Perhaps it was simple wildness from Braves starter Tim Hudson, but Atlanta manager Bobby Cox appeared to have his staff pitching around Berkman and going after Ensberg. Berkman walked in three of his five plate appearances, all with a runner or two in scoring position, and Ensberg delivered an RBI each time.

Ensberg declined the notion that it was anything personal.

"I think what's really going on was they're trying to get a righty-on-righty matchup, and Lance obviously is an outstanding left-handed hitter," Ensberg said. "When you have the option to go after another right-handed batter, I think you just do it. ... I actually got good pitches to hit in those situations."

Ensberg hit an RBI single in the first inning, a go-ahead, two-run single in the third and an RBI single in the seventh that knocked out Hudson. He then drew a bases-loaded walk from John Foster in the eighth that extended Houston's five-run, game-breaking rally.

Ensberg picked a good time to turn it on. He entered Wednesday's game as a career .217 hitter against the Braves with six RBIs in 60 regular-season at-bats, but his sudden success in Game 1 did not surprise Craig Biggio.

"He's had an unbelievable season," said Biggio, who scored on Ensberg's first two hits. "I think he understands what he can and can't do now. He's had one of the best years for a third baseman in the history of our club."

Said Astros starter Andy Pettitte: "Tonight for us offensively, it was just textbook. Morgan came up with some huge hits with two outs."

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

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