“I figured there wouldn’t be much offense,” Hudson said of his showdown with Clemens. “I was getting more excited as the game went on. It was a fun game to watch, if you’re a baseball fan.”
After Julio Franco struck out to lead off the 12th, Langerhans homered deep to right off Astros reliever Dan Wheeler (0-2) for the first run of the two-game series between last year’s NL division series adversaries. Houston advanced to the NL championship series in five games.
Danny Kolb, the fourth Braves pitcher, earned his fourth save in five opportunities a night after giving up both runs in a 2-1, 10-inning loss to Philadelphia. Chris Reitsma escaped a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the 10th and Jorge Sosa (1-0) pitched a perfect 11th for the win.
The Astros have lost six of seven since starting 4-1. Houston has lost five games by one run this season, and seven of the Astros’ first 12 games have been decided by a run.
“Our pitching is good,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “They can pitch with pressure but you can’t ask them to come in every night and pitch 12 shutout innings.”
Not surprisingly, Clemens and Hudson combined for a stirring pitchers’ duel in a game between the 24th (Atlanta) and 26th-ranked (Houston) scoring offenses in the majors.
But it was Langerhans, a 25-year-old who grew up in Round Rock, Texas—the site of Houston’s Triple A club—who decided the game with his first career homer.
Langerhans swung at Wheeler’s first pitch, sending the ball 396-feet, just over the right-field fence. The homer quickly quieted the crowd except for a smattering of Braves fans that included Langerhans’ parents, grandparents, fiancee and friends.
“It was really special,” Langerhans said. “I couldn’t ask for it to happen in a better situation.”
Hudson, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Oakland, continued his strong start with the Braves, taking a four-hitter into the 10th inning for his longest start since a complete-game shutout against Baltimore on Aug. 17. He had nine strikeouts and only one walk.
“Hudson was dynamite, and so was Clemens,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “You couldn’t tell the difference between them.”
Indeed—Hudson also got little offensive support. The Braves have scored just two runs in his 22 innings over three starts.
Atlanta endured a scary moment in the bottom of the fifth, though, when Morgan Ensberg’s comebacker ricocheted off Hudson’s right foot to Franco for the easy out. Hudson limped around for a minute or two before getting back on the mound to scattered applause.
After Andruw Jones grounded out to first, Clemens intentionally walked Johnny Estrada to load the bases. The Rocket then quickly worked himself out of the jam by striking out Franco on a 94-mph fastball and forcing Brian Jordan to ground into a forceout at second.
Walking back to the dugout, Clemens let out a yell and pumped his fist as the crowd of 31,672 burst into cheers. He was removed after Raul Mondesi singled to leadoff the eighth.
The Astros wasted another stellar performance from their 42-year-old ace: they’ve scored just one run in his 21 innings on the mound this season.
“It’s tough when you battle so hard,” said a subdued Clemens, who’s ERA dropped to 0.43. “You expect something good to happen … but it didn’t work out.”
The Rocket finished with five hits and eight strikeouts, increasing his career total to 4,345. He remained tied with Steve Carlton for ninth on the wins list with 329.
Clemens was denied another victory against the Braves, one of only two teams, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers, that he’s never beat in the regular season. He’s 0-2 in five career starts against Atlanta. … Fans gave three-time All-Star Jimmy Wynn, who played in Houston for 11 of his 15 major league seasons, a standing ovation before the third inning. The Astros announced earlier Monday that they will retire Wynn’s No. 24 jersey number during a ceremony before the July 8 game against the Dodgers. … Cox earned his 2,009 victory, moving him past Hall of Famer Leo Durocher for sole possession of eighth place.