The 43-year-old Rocket came out of the bullpen to rescue the
Astros and Chris Burke ended the longest postseason game in
baseball history with a home run in the 18th inning, lifting
Houston over the Atlanta Braves 7-6 Sunday and into the NL
"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, the 25-year-old Burke was beaming.
"I'm just glad I could do my part," Burke said. "It was
draining, mentally draining."
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 Monday night. Instead, Lance Berkman hit a grand slam in the
eighth and Brad Ausmus tied Game 4 with a two-out homer in the
ninth barely beyond Gold Glove center fielder Andruw Jones'
Then, at 6-all, the Braves and Astros began the real endurance
test that wound up lasting 5 hours, 50 minutes. The previous
longest postseason game also occurred in Houston -- the New York
Mets clinched the 1986 NLCS with a 16-inning win at the Astrodome.
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."
With Clemens pitching three scoreless innings in his first
relief appearance since 1984 -- and this time atoning for a poor
start in Game 2 -- the Astros advanced to play the St. Louis
Cardinals in the NLCS starting 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, the Cardinals beat Clemens in Game 7, denying the
Astros their first World Series appearance.
And it was another early October exit for the Braves, who have
won an unprecedented 14 straight division titles but have just one
World Series crown to show for it. The Astros eliminated Atlanta
"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 an early grand slam by Adam LaRoche. Berkman's
shot made this the first postseason game ever with two slams.
Burke entered the game in the 10th inning as a pinch-runner. He
came up with one out in the 18th against rookie Joey Devine, and
launched a drive over the left-field wall.
Burke was mobbed his teammates at the plate after only the sixth
series-ending home run in history, and the first since Aaron Boone
sent the Yankees over Boston in the 11th inning of Game 7 in the
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 first entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the bottom
of the 15th, and had a sacrifice bunt after a leadoff walk by Craig
Biggio. 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 off 15-30 before rallying to claim the
wild-card spot, though they finished 11 games behind St. Louis in
the NL Central.
About three hours before the game finally 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 the grand slam to Berkman after replacing Tim
Ausmus, with just three homers in 134 regular-season games, hit
a ball that ricocheted off a column in left-center field -- just
above the yellow line signifying a home run. Had it hit about a
foot more to the left, the ball would have still 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 left-field line curled just left of
the pole. The crowd was already in a frenzy before realizing the
ball had been called foul -- TV replays confirmed that it was. Scott
grounded out on the next pitch.
Atlanta led 6-1 when Hudson, the Game 1 loser pitching on three
days' rest, allowed the first two hitters to reach in the eighth
and was pulled. Biggio reached on a fielder's choice grounder and
Scott walked before Berkman's grand slam, an opposite-field shot
into the seats in left.
Farnsworth managed to preserve the lead then, getting Ensberg on
a called third strike before Mike Lamb's flyball that right fielder
Jeff Francoeur caught on the warning track. He didn't have the same
success against No. 8 hitter Ausmus an inning later.
LaRoche hit a grand slam in the third off Astros starter Brandon
Backe, who loaded the bases after walking two batters and hitting
another. Jones added a sacrifice fly to put the Braves up 5-0 in
Brian McCann, the rookie catcher whose three-run homer off
Clemens was the big blow in Game 2, put the Braves up 6-1 when he
led off the eighth with a homer. McCann grounded out leading off
the 17th in a rematch against the future Hall of Famer.
There were 553 total pitches. Clemens threw the last 44 of
Houston's 299 pitches. ... Nicole Oswalt, the wife of Astros
pitcher and Game 3 winner Roy Oswalt, sang the national anthem
before Sunday's game and "God Bless America" during the