Little did they know, it would be more than 5 1/2 hours later before they'd have a winner of the series finale between the two teams. Atlanta prevailed, 7-6, when it managed one run in the bottom of the 17th inning, much to the delight of what was left of a crowd of 24,169.
Working his third inning, Houston reliever Tim Byrdak yielded a leadoff single to Gregor Blanco, and Yunel Escobar reached on a bunt single to third when Ty Wigginton's throw sailed high and briefly took first baseman Geoff Blum off the bag.
Chipper Jones loaded the bases with a sharp single to right, and with the outfield playing shallow, Mark Teixeira sent a long single to deep left-center to lift the Braves to the win.
"You've got to just go out and try to make your pitches, attack the hitter," Byrdak said. "We pulled Carlos [Lee] in [from left] and tried to get [Teixeira] to hit it on the ground. He's a good hitter. I made a mistake -- I shouldn't have thrown a breaking ball in that situation. It was the wrong pitch at that point, because we were looking for a ground ball. The bottom line was he beat us."
Later, Astros manager Cecil Cooper praised the efforts of his team, especially his bullpen, which held the Braves scoreless for more than nine innings before Atlanta broke through in the 17th.
Several relievers stretched themselves to the limits, including righty Geoff Geary, who threw 41 pitches over three innings, and Byrdak, who threw 47.
"My guys battled," Cooper said. "That's all you can ask. They battled and played hard. We had a lot of chances to squeeze one across. We just couldn't get it done. Everybody -- every stinking pitcher that went out there -- battled, and that's all you can ask for. They laid it all out on the line."
Cooper recalled speaking with Byrdak after the lefty completed his second inning.
"We asked him after the second, 'Are you OK? Can you go again?'" Cooper said. "And he just said, 'Leave me alone.' He wanted to go. To me, that says a lot."
The Astros had a few chances to score during the long stretch of extra innings, but a missed opportunity in the 15th was especially deflating. They had runners on second and third and one out, and had the infield not been playing in, Wigginton's liner might have snuck through the hole at third.
But the shortstop, Escobar, dove to his right and snared Wigginton's bid for a two-run single, freezing the baserunners.
"That was tough to swallow," Cooper said. "That kind of took a lot out of us. That's two runs -- the guy made a great play."
Wigginton said he'd gladly trade his first career grand slam, which he hit in the third, for a base hit later.
"At the time in the game, [the grand slam] felt good," Wigginton said. "If I had a choice, I'd get that line drive through instead."
The Astros had a 6-4 lead in the eighth, but they let it slip. Martin Prado led off with a single off Houston reliever Doug Brocail, who then struck out Greg Norton and walked pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson.
Brocail struck out another pinch-hitter, catcher Brian McCann, prompting Cooper to call for closer Jose Valverde to face Blanco.
Valverde walked Blanco and yielded a two-run single to Escobar, tying the game at 6 in the eighth.
For the next eight innings, both bullpens were indestructible.
"It was a great effort by everybody -- a tremendous effort," Cooper said. "Everybody gave a tremendous, tremendous effort. [The Braves] made some great plays. We could have had a win there in the 13th, 14th. We had a shot again in the 15th. We just couldn't get it done. They made a couple great plays on us, and that was the difference."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less