ATLANTA (AP)—The Houston Astros opened this postseason without a bit of concern about the past.
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 playoffs Wednesday—a major step toward winning their first postseason series.
Clemens continually pitched out of trouble against the Braves, while 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 last 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, an RBI double that put the Astros ahead for good in the third inning. But he and Biggio played a secondary role in beating the NL East champion 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 came 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 games to claim an improbable wild card.
“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 coming into the series. “Everybody contributed.”
Game 2 is Thursday 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 Houston has 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 RBI double was followed by Berkman’s two-run homer into the Braves bullpen.
Beltran knocked out Wright in the fifth with another two-run homer.
Clemens showed the effects of a stomach virus that kept him from making his last start of the regular season. The Hall of Famer-to-be walked six—all in the first four innings and the most he’s given up in a game 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 runners 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 lasted seven innings, throwing 117 pitches, giving up six hits and two earned runs, while striking out seven. Not bad for a 42-year-old who briefly retired after last season, but came back to help his hometown Astros reach their first World Series.
In a nod to the guy 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.
When Atlanta loaded the bases in the first on Berkman’s error and two walks, Clemens limited the damage to Johnny Estrada’s sacrifice fly.
The Braves put runners at second and third with one out in the second. Rafael Furcal, playing just hours after appearing in court on a probation violation stemming from a drunken-driving arrest, struck out and Marcus Giles grounded out.
Clemens walked the bases loaded in the third, but escaped by making Charles Thomas look foolish. The rookie flailed at a pitch far out of the strike zone, then took a called third strike over the inside corner.
The Braves put two more runners on in the fourth. Clemens took care of that by jamming J.D. Drew, whose shattered bat flew farther than his popup back to the mound. Chipper Jones grounded out to end the inning.
“I thought we had a pretty good game plan,” Jones said. “We got him to throw a lot of pitches early, but we missed opportunities.”
While Clemens was frustrating the Braves, Wright was watching the ball fly out of the park. After giving up just 11 homers in 32 regular-season starts, he equaled a career high in one game.
“I thought I only made a couple of mistakes,” Wright said. “They didn’t miss them.”
Wright was making his first postseason start since 1998, when he was one of baseball’s most promising young pitchers. Two shoulder operations and seven stints on the disabled list sidetracked his career, but he bounced back to win 15 games this season.
He won’t have fond memories of this start, which was epitomized in the fourth when Morgan Ensberg hit a liner off Wright’s left shin. The pitcher flipped off his glove and crawled along the ground in obvious pain, though he was able to stay in the game.
Not for long. Beltran—one of the new Killer B’s—finished off Wright the next inning.
Lane, who came in after Beltran was plunked by a pitch, homered in the ninth.
The Astros twice scored seven runs against Philadelphia in the 1980 NLCS, their first postseason appearance. … Beltran was left with bruised ribs after getting hit by Juan Cruz, making him questionable for Thursday’s game. … Furcal was ordered to serve a total of seven weeks in jail and treatment after the season ends. … Andruw Jones hit his eighth postseason homer, a solo shot leading off the fifth. … Chipper Jones went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and was clearly bothered by a sore right hand. He still hopes to play Thursday.