Astros 9, Rockies 3

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HOUSTON (AP)—With everyone cheering all around him, Houston Astros manager Phil Garner tried hard not to look at the scoreboard in left field.

But as the crowd grew louder and his players whooped it up, Garner caved in to his curiosity. The scoreboard brought welcome news: San Francisco had lost, putting the Astros even closer to a playoff spot.

“I said, `I’m not going to look, I’m not going to look,”’ Garner said after Houston took the NL wild-card lead with a 9-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday.

“But then I saw one of the fans down the third-base line jump up and start pointing at the scoreboard. And I saw it. It was pretty exciting.”

Roy Oswalt became the NL’s first 20-game winner, and Jeff Kent and Craig Biggio each homered twice to move the Astros one win from completing an amazing late-season playoff push.

They are a game ahead of the Giants, who lost 7-3 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Chicago Cubs were eliminated from the postseason race after losing their fifth straight, 8-6 to Atlanta.

With a victory in the regular-season finale Sunday or a Giants loss, Houston will clinch the NL’s final playoff spot—an improbable thought almost a month ago when it was four games below .500 and seven games behind the Cubs.

“It just shows that you should never give up,” Houston’s Jeff Bagwell said. “The middle of August was a tough situation. We just kept grinding and grinding and here we are.”

Astros owner Drayton McLane sheepishly acknowledged he needed to cancel a business trip to Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia that was scheduled for Oct. 10. McLane planned the trip about six weeks ago.

“I thought I might be able to do some other things,” McLane said. “Guess we might be busy then, huh?”

Roger Clemens was set to take the mound against the Rockies on only three days’ rest.

“That could be the biggest game we play all year,” Garner said. “I don’t want to leave any doubt. I think you’ve got to give it your best shot.”

If the Astros lose and the Giants win Sunday, the teams would play Monday afternoon in San Francisco. The winner would get the wild card.

Morgan Ensberg and Eric Bruntlett hit solo shots to help the Astros set a season high with six homers, extending their franchise-record home winning streak to 17 games.

Kent hit a two-run shot off Adam Bernero in the fifth for his 278th home run as a second baseman, breaking Ryne Sandberg’s major league record. Kent got a curtain call from the crowd, emerging from the dugout to doff his cap.

Oswalt (20-10) won 20 games for the first time in his career, allowing only one run and five hits in seven innings. The 27-year-old right-hander posted the eighth 20-win season in club history, joining Larry Dierker, Mike Hampton, Jose Lima, J.R. Richard, Mike Scott and Joe Niekro, who did it twice.

The only drama of the evening came in a game being played more than 1,500 miles away at Dodger Stadium.

The sellout crowd of 43,279 let out an incredible roar in the third inning when the scoreboard posted the news they’d all been waiting to see: Los Angeles 7, San Francisco 3.

“The crowd lit up. I didn’t know what was going on and then I looked out there,” Oswalt said. “Then I knew we had it. My thoughts were, we have to win this game now.”

Houston wasted little time jumping out to an early lead for its sixth straight win and eighth in its last nine—the Astros led off the first four innings with home runs.

Shawn Estes (15-8) allowed five runs on seven hits, including four homers, in four innings. It was the first time since Aug. 29 that Estes hadn’t made it into the seventh inning of a start.

“I wouldn’t change one pitch I threw tonight,” Estes said. “They are hot. They are hitting everything.”

Biggio hit a leadoff homer in the first, Kent connected in the second and Biggio went deep again to lead off the third, drawing chants of “Biggio! Biggio!” from the crowd.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling—almost too hard to put in words,” Biggio said. “We’re just fired up around here. We have something huge at stake tomorrow.”

With the bases loaded later in the inning, Estes walked Ensberg to score Bagwell and give Houston a 4-1 lead.

Biggio nearly homered again in the eighth, driving a pitch from Tim Harikkala deep into left field—almost hitting the scoreboard—for a sacrifice fly that scored Bruntlett.

Vinny Castilla homered off Oswalt in the second and the Rockies added two more runs in the eighth on Jorge Piedra’s home run and Royce Clayton’s RBI double.


Biggio hit his career-high 24th homer. He also extended his NL record of leadoff homers to 41. … Colorado 1B Todd Helton’s hitting streak ended at 11. He finished the game 0-for-3. … The Astros sold out their 23rd game of the season.

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