HOUSTON (AP) -- Once again, the Houston Astros waited to the
final day. And once again, they're going to the playoffs.
"That's the Astros' way," Craig Biggio said, "The only way we
know how to get it done."
Roy Oswalt got his 20th win to lead the Astros over the Chicago
Cubs 6-4 Sunday, clinching the NL wild-card berth and capping a
Houston started the season 15-30 and became the first team to
make the postseason after falling 15 games under .500 since the
1914 Boston Braves.
"This one has to rank up there as maybe the best, coming from a
long way back," said Biggio, part of five of the Astros' eight
previous playoff teams. "That just tells a lot about the guys in
Just like last season, when manager Phil Garner replaced Jimy
Williams at the All-Star break, the Astros waited until the last
day of the regular season to clinch.
Oswalt became the first pitcher since 2001-02 with consecutive
20-win seasons, throwing six innings and driving in a run for the
Houston lost the first two games of the weekend series, but
avoided a tie with Philadelphia for the wild card, and having to go
on the road for a one-game tiebreaker. The Phillies (88-74) won 9-3
at Washington and finished a game back.
"When I thought we were going to take off, we didn't. When I
thought we were going to crater, we didn't," said Garner, who
preferred to sip the champagne rather than be doused by it. "We
came down to the last game, and we did what we had to do."
Houston will play at Atlanta starting Wednesday in a rematch of
last year's NL division series, won by the Astros in five games for
their first postseason series victory in eight tries. The Braves
were 5-1 against Houston this season, including a four-game sweep
"We know we have a daunting task," Garner said.
Houston trailed 4-3 when Oswalt (20-12) threw his last pitch in
the sixth. The game was tied by time Jeff Bagwell pinch hit for him
in the bottom of the inning.
Jason Lane's 26th homer, on the second pitch of the sixth, tied
the game at 4-all. That came after the Cubs had scored twice in the
top of the inning on several bloop hits.
Adam Everett had a one-out single before Bagwell, limited to
pinch-hitting duties since missing 115 games because of shoulder
surgery, hit a grounder. Shortstop Neifi Perez's throw to second
was wide of the base, allowing Everett to score the go-ahead run
and Bagwell to go all the way to third.
"To get 20 is great, but to get to the playoffs is more," said
Oswalt, who was interrupted by a champagne shower from Roger
Clemens. "We've come a long way, especially the way the team
pulled together and started playing."
Bagwell was the last batter faced by Greg Maddux (13-15), who
finished with a losing record for the first time since going 6-14
as a rookie for the Cubs in 1987. The four-time NL Cy Young Award
winner allowed six runs and 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings.
Michael Wuertz's wild pitch allowed Charles Gipson, running for
Bagwell, to score for a 6-4 lead.
Brad Lidge worked the ninth for Houston for his 42nd save, his
second in a row since his blown save Friday night that cut a
two-game lead in half.
Derrek Lee was 0-for-4 but at .335 became the Cubs' first
batting champion since Bill Buckner in 1980. He finished with 199
hits -- 99 for extra bases (50 doubles, three triples and 46 home
"I never realized at the start of the year that I could win a
batting title, but it's a great accomplishment," Lee said. "I
wanted to get No. 200 today, but I just couldn't get any good
Lee missed becoming the first Cub with 200 hits since Ryne
Sandberg in 1984s. He was on deck when Jose Macias hit a
game-ending liner with two on, setting off a celebration that
included fireworks and confetti.
"It was hard to watch them celebrate, especially how we came
back on a tough Oswalt," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We
didn't give it to them. They earned it."
Oswalt finished with the ninth 20-win season in Astros history,
joining Joe Niekro (1979-80) as the only Houston pitchers to
accomplish the feat twice. He is the first in the majors with
consecutive 20-win seasons since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling
both accomplished the feat in 2001 and 2002 for Arizona.
Still, Oswalt had his troubles Sunday.
With Philadelphia already ahead in its game, Houston got off to
a fast start. Biggio hit Maddux's second pitch of the game for a
double, and after Willy Taveras had a sacrifice bunt, scored on
Morgan Ensberg's single. Mike Lamb also had an RBI single for a 2-0
Houston went ahead 3-0 on Oswalt's infield RBI single in the
fourth, which came after the Cubs intentionally walked Adam Everett
with two outs and a runner at third to get to the pitcher's spot.
Oswalt hit a grounder deep into the shortstop hotel that Perez
backhanded, and beat a strong throw to first.
Michael Barrett led off the Cubs' fifth with his 16th homer, and
Matt Murton and Perez followed with consecutive singles. Maddux
then bunted the ball right back at Oswalt to start a double play
before Corey Patterson's RBI double made it 3-2.
Nomar Garciappara had a one-out single in the sixth, and Jeromy
Burnitz and Michael Barrett followed with bloop hits for a run.
Taveras prevented another bloop hit with a diving catch in center,
but Perez put the Cubs up 4-3 with another softly hit single.
Maddux had won at least 15 games every season since his
rookie season, matching Cy Young's record with 17 straight 15-win