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Astros one win away from NLCS

Astros one win away from NLCS

HOUSTON -- The Astros have said time and time again that there are few comparisons between the 2004 and 2005 Wild Card teams. But although their makeup is very different, the playoff scenario is the same: after three games of the Division Series, they are one win away from advancing to the next round.

The Astros beat the Braves on Saturday, 7-3, before a loud, closed-roof crowd of 43,759 -- the largest ever at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were allotted approximately 14 hours to let this one soak in before returning to the ballpark for Game 4, which could be the decider in this best-of-five series.

Such was the case this time last year, when the Astros won Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead. In 2004, they lost Game 4 and had to travel to Atlanta to play -- and win -- Game 5.

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The sign on the clubhouse door following the game said, "Pack for four days." If the Astros lose Sunday, they're off to Atlanta, and if they win there, it's on to the next round.

No one wants to hop on a plane Sunday night.

"We played real well today and hopefully we can stay hot and finish this thing off in front of the home fans," Jason Lane said. "We have a huge advantage here with our home field and our home crowd. It's nice to get the first one and hopefully keep rolling tomorrow."

But first, Saturday's performance. The Astros had everything working -- a terrific outing by Roy Oswalt, and an impressive display of hitting, with several of their 12 hits bunched together in one convincing four-run seventh.

Craig Biggio, 6-for-12 in the Divison Series, led off with his third double of the night, this one off reliever Chris Reitsma. He moved to third on Willy Taveras' infield hit and scored on Lance Berkman's single to left off left-hander John Foster.

Braves manager Bobby Cox turned to Joey Devine, who yielded a double to Morgan Ensberg, plating Taveras. Lane drove in the third run with a single to left, and after Cox called upon right-hander Jim Brower, Adam Everett lifted a fly ball to center, scoring Ensberg from third.

"For me, the player of the game is Willy T," Biggio said. "We had a one-run lead in the seventh ining, had two strikes on him and he battled. He was trying to get me over, he got me over and got himself on. After that, we had a lot of guys that did a lot of things right."

Brad Ausmus, who ended the inning by grounding into a double play, saw Berkman's hit as the most defining moment.

"They brought the left-hander to turn Lance around and he came up with a big hit immediately," Ausmus said. "Lane did a great job battling against Devine getting a single. They all had good at-bats, but Lance's was the one that opened the door."

Oswalt was just so-so for one inning and great for more than six. He stumbled in the second, squandering Houston's 2-0 lead by giving up two runs to the bottom of the Braves' order.

Andruw Jones knocked a base hit to left and moved to second when Oswalt walked Adam LaRoche. Oswalt appeared to be off the hook when Jeff Francoeur grounded into a 5-3 double play, but Brian McCann's bloop single to left scored LaRoche, and pitcher Jorge Sosa followed with a solid base hit to left that drove in Ryan Langerhans.

Mike Lamb, making his first start of the Division Series, broke the tie with a solo homer in the third, and order was restored in Oswalt's world.

"When Lamb hit the home run, I thought Roy went back out and you saw a different Roy on the mound," Garner said. "He got aggressive, threw his fastball, just went right at them until he gave up a hit in, what, about the sixth inning?

"I think the Lamb home run, getting the lead again ... then Roy's whole approach looked to me like it changed. He got to be the Roy of old."

Said Lamb: "When they tie the game like that, you definitely want to come out the next inning and score a run, get the momentum back. I didn't try to hit a home run. It just worked out."

"To get us a one-run lead gets you right back into the game for us," Oswalt said. "You don't have to be so fine as to throwing a ball around the plate. You can still be aggressive and make them hit the ball early."

With the exception of Ausmus, every Astros starter logged at least one hit. In their two wins, the Astros have combined to score 17 runs and record 23 hits.

"We've needed everybody," Lamb said. "Bench guys, starters, guys filling in for injured guys. ... Last year, we tended to rely on one through five [hitters]. Six, seven, eight, if you could get something out of them, it's great.

"This year, this team doesn't play like that. This team, take one through nine, taking the bull by the horns and say, 'I'm going to be the guy tonight.'"

On Sunday, they'll likely need another collective effort to avoid a return trip to Atlanta. Following Saturday's win, the confidence level was high.

"We can't wait for tomorrow," reliever Dan Wheeler said. "We're a step closer to what we're trying to accomplish here. I know nobody in this clubhouse wants to go to Atlanta. We'd like to have that day off. We're going to try to do everything we can to win tomorrow. All of our energy is going to go into tomorrow."

Alyson Footer 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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