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Baseball: NL playoffs

Astros start to erase their past

Four homers back Roger Clemens in a 9-3 win over the Braves.

By Associated Press
Published October 7, 2004

ATLANTA - The Astros opened this postseason without a bit of concern about the past.

No wonder.

They had Roger Clemens on the mound and a powerful lineup that took the burden off the Killer B's.

Picking up where they left off in the regular season, the wild-card Astros routed NL East champion Atlanta 9-3 in Game 1 of the NL division series Wednesday, a major step toward winning their first postseason series.

Clemens continually pitched out of trouble against the Braves, and Brad Ausmus, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Jason Lane homered for the Astros, who set a franchise record for runs in a postseason game.

"I don't think we'll look back," Clemens said. "There's such a different cast of characters on this ballclub."

The Astros are 0-for-7 in the postseason, losing three of their past four series to the Braves. Much of the blame fell on Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, the heart of the Killer B's for more than a decade.

Bagwell finally came through with his first postseason extra-base hit, a run-scoring double that put the Astros ahead for good in the third. But he and Biggio played a secondary role in beating the Braves, who hardly looked like a team that won its 13th straight division title.

"I enjoy being a part of the offense," said Bagwell, who went in with a career playoff average of .174. "But this it not about me and my postseason struggles."

The Astros carried over their momentum from the regular season, which they closed by winning 36 of 46

"You don't play like we did the last month and a half without team being a capital "T,' " said Biggio, a .130 postseason hitter going in. "Everybody contributed."

Game 2 is today at Turner Field, with Houston sending 20-game winner Roy Oswalt to the mound against Mike Hampton. If the visitors win again, they'll have two chances to wrap up the series at Minute Maid Park, where they have an 18-game winning streak.

The Astros trailed 1-0 when Ausmus led off the third with the first of Houston's three homers off Jaret Wright, sparking a four-run inning. Bagwell's double was followed by Berkman's two-run homer into the Braves bullpen.

Beltran knocked out Wright in the fifth with a two-run homer.

Clemens showed the effects of a stomach virus that kept him from making his last start of the regular season. The likely Hall of Famer walked six, all in the first four innings and the most he has given up since 1998.

But Clemens displayed plenty of grit in winning a Game 1 start for the first time in his storied career. The Braves stranded nine in the first four innings.

"I'm going to be a little hardheaded and pitch to my spots," Clemens said.

It worked out fine. Clemens pitched seven innings, throwing 117 pitches, giving up six hits and two earned runs and striking out seven. It wasn't bad for a 42-year-old who briefly retired after last season but came back to try to help his hometown Astros reach their first World Series.

In a nod to the man who persuaded him to put off retirement, Clemens wore a right-handed glove mistakenly sent to left-handed teammate Andy Pettitte, out for the season after elbow surgery.

"I wish he was pitching with us," Clemens said.

[Last modified October 7, 2004, 00:30:24]

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