An epic triumph

The longest postseason game ever ends on Chris Burke's homer, sending Houston back to the NLCS.

Associated Press
Published October 10, 2005

HOUSTON - Roger Clemens could see the Astros were running out of pitchers.

"As the game went longer and longer, Phil (Garner) finally came up to me and said get ready and get your spikes on. I may need you," the 43-year-old ace said. "Sometimes he jokes with me, but I knew he meant it."

Clemens came out of the bullpen to boost his team, then Chris Burke ended the longest postseason game in history with a home run in the 18th inning, lifting the Astros over the Atlanta Braves 7-6 Sunday and into the NL Championship Series.

Clemens' rescue also gave him a measure of redemption. Making his first relief appearance since 1984, he pitched three dominant innings and atoned for a poor start in Game 2.

Now, Garner's team gets a matchup against the Cardinals, the club Clemens lost to in Game 7 of last year's NLCS.

"I love this, this is why you get off the couch to play this game," said Clemens, who came out of retirement two years ago to pitch for his hometown club. "I've been fortunate to have played in a lot of big games, but it's still exciting."

The Braves took a five-run lead into the eighth and were poised to send this first-round series back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 tonight.

Instead, Lance Berkman hit a grand slam in the eighth and Brad Ausmus tied it with a two-out homer in the ninth barely beyond Gold Glove centerfielder Andruw Jones' outstretched glove.

Then, with the score tied at 6, the Braves and Astros began the real endurance test that wound up lasting 5 hours, 50 minutes. The longest postseason game also occurred in Houston; the Mets clinched the 1986 NLCS with a 16-inning win at the Astrodome.

"I'm sure proud of the guys," Clemens said. "It's been a lot of work for us. How 'bout the kid?"

Standing next to Clemens, Burke, 25, was beaming.

"I'm just glad I could do my part," Burke said. "It was draining, mentally draining."

When Burke hit the homer, Clemens was in the dugout tunnel with Craig Biggio, the 39-year-old second baseman who has spent his entire career in Houston.

"We were like two tired old men walking out of the tunnel, and then we were like two kids having a good time," Clemens said. "We were holding each other up."

The Astros get a few days to rest. The NLCS starts Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.

"If he comes in a game like that, you know it has to be important to him," Jones said. "He was going to try not to make any mistakes, and he didn't. He pitched great."

Clemens gave up one hit and struck out four, setting up the first NLCS rematch since Pittsburgh and Atlanta played in 1991-92. Last October, Clemens failed to hold an early lead in Game 7, denying the Astros their first World Series appearance.

The loss marked another early October exit for the Braves, who have won an unprecedented 14 straight division titles but have one World Series crown to show for it. The Astros eliminated Atlanta last season.

"It never feels good, but I've had a couple of heartbreakers where I could have won the game, but instead ended the season," Chipper Jones said. "You learn from that."

The Braves wasted Adam LaRoche's early grand slam. Berkman's shot made this the first postseason game with two slams.

Burke entered in the 10th as a pinch-runner. He came up with one out in the 18th against rookie Joey Devine and launched a drive over the leftfield wall.

Burke was mobbed at the plate after the sixth series-ending home run in history, the first since Aaron Boone sent the Yankees over Boston in the 11th inning of Game 7 in the 2003 ALCS.

Batting just before Burke, Clemens took a mighty swing and missed against Devine before striking out. Clemens has never hit a home run in the majors.

Clemens entered as a pinch-hitter in the 15th and had a sacrifice bunt after Biggio's leadoff walk. But after another walk, Morgan Ensberg grounded into an inning-ending double play.

"It was kind of a microcosm of our season," Burke said. "Started out slow, finished strong."

The Astros started 15-30 before rallying to claim the wild-card spot, though they finished 11 games behind St. Louis in the Central.

About three hours before the game ended, Ausmus hit his unlikely homer off Kyle Farnsworth. In the eighth, Farnsworth, the latest in a long line of Atlanta relievers to fail in the postseason, gave up Berkman's grand slam after replacing Tim Hudson.

Ausmus, with three homers in 134 regular-season games, hit a ball that ricocheted off a column in left-centerfield, just above the yellow line signifying a home run. Had it hit about a foot to the left, the ball would have been in play and Ausmus held to a double.

The Astros thought they had another homer to win it in the 10th, but Luke Scott's drive down the leftfield line curled just left of the pole. The crowd was in a frenzy before realizing the ball had been called foul; TV replays confirmed that it was. Scott grounded out on the next pitch.