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Tripped at the Ted

Astros turn tables on Braves with 6-1 win in Game 1

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Posted: Wednesday October 06, 1999 09:26 AM

  Billy Wagner pitched a scoreless ninth inning to snap Atlanta's six-game winning streak against Houston. Andy Lyons/Allsport

By John Donovan, CNN/SI

ATLANTA -- It took the Houston Astros a little while to do it -- the better part of a couple years, really -- but they finally may have figured out the Atlanta Braves.

And now the Braves, trying desperately to solidify their place as the Team of the '90s, have some major figuring out to do themselves.

The Astros, postseason afterthoughts even though they own the second-best regular-season winning percentage in the National League since 1993, scraped and fought and finally handed the Braves a ninth-inning knockout Tuesday afternoon, snagging Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series 6-1 at Turner Field.

The win stopped the Braves' six-game winning streak against the Astros this season, it kind-of avenged a three-game sweep the Braves stuck on them back in the '97 Divisional Series -- and it has the Astros sitting awfully pretty right now in this best-of-five series.

No one knows that better than the Braves.

Game 1
A Closer Look
The Braves didn't have many chances against Astros starter Shane Reynolds on Tuesday, and the biggest one they had, they let get away.

With two outs in the fifth inning, after the Braves had just tied the score at 1, Reynolds gave up a single to Bret Boone and walked Chipper Jones on four pitches to load the bases.

That brought up left-handed swinging Atlanta first baseman Ryan Klesko, who owned a .346 lifetime average against the righty Reynolds.

"Could have been a situation there where the game could have blown up," Reynolds said.

Klesko worked Reynolds into a 2-1 count, then swung mightily through a pitch dropping in the dirt to even the count at 2-2. But Reynolds responded with two good pitches that Klesko managed to foul off. The second one was a nasty inside fastball that Klesko somehow got a bat on.

But on the next pitch, Reynolds fired a high fastball that Klesko, who had 21 homers and 80 RBIs this season, swung through for the final out of the inning.

It was Reynolds' only strikeout of the game.

"We came in and tried to get the speed off his bat," the pitcher explained. "Nothing special or nothing he did wrong or I did right. Just trying to make a quality pitch in a crucial situation of the game. It just happened to work out."

-- John Donovan

"The noose tightens a little quicker in these short series," admitted Atlanta slugger Chipper Jones.

The Astros could put a veritable chokehold on the Braves with a win Wednesday, but they were more than happy just to get that noose around Atlanta's neck Tuesday, instead of the other way around. The Braves had won 10 straight Divisional Series games, not to mention 103 games during the regular season, and were the odds-on favorite to win the NL crown. They are the only NL team that has more wins than the Astros over the past seven years.

"I know we haven't performed well in the postseason," Houston manager Larry Dierker said. In fact, the Astros never have won a postseason series in five tries. "When you lose that first game, it is an uphill struggle. So, in winning that first game, I think it puts the shoe on the other foot."

Almost from the start Tuesday, it was the Braves who were chasing the Astros. Houston starter Shane Reynolds baffled the Braves, going six innings and giving up just the one run on a two-out single up the middle by Gerald Williams in the fifth. After Reynolds gave way in the bottom of the seventh, the Houston bullpen completely handcuffed the Braves over the final three innings, getting nine straight outs.

"You can't say enough about the bullpen," said Reynolds, who spread out seven hits to get the win. "Coming in here and winning the first game against Greg Maddux -- yeah, very big."

While the Houston pitchers were busy flummoxing the Braves -- and noticeably staying away from Jones -- the Houston hitters clawed their way to a 2-1 lead going into the ninth. It took the Astros 11 hits to get those two measly runs. They botched a suicide squeeze in the second inning, hit into a couple of double plays and left nine men on base.

Solving the Braves?
The Braves have owned the Astros this season -- until Tuesday, that is. Here's how the Braves-Astros series has turned this year.
Date Site Winner Score
June 14
June 15
June 16
June 17
Aug. 9
Aug. 10
Aug. 11
*Oct. 5
* NL Divisional Series

But they had the lead, thanks to catcher Tony Eusebio's single that scored center fielder Carl Everett in the top of second -- ever hear of the Killer Es? -- and left fielder Daryle Ward's solo home run to lead off the sixth.

And in the ninth, after Everett reached out and poked a sacrifice fly to center field with one out, third baseman Ken Caminiti crushed a Mike Remlinger off-speed pitch to left-center for a three-run homer that finally put the game out of reach.

The Astros knocked around Braves starter (and loser) Maddux for 10 hits in seven innings, forcing him to throw 111 pitches, beating him for the first time this season and handing him his first loss ever in a Division Series (he was 4-0).

"I think the story of playoff games is pitching," Remlinger said. "Typically, the team that pitches best wins."

Or, in the Astros case, the team that pitches around best wins. The Astros' pitchers refused to give Atlanta's Jones -- who has had 10 home runs and 23 RBIs in his last 27 games -- a good look at a decent pitch all day.

"That was pretty much the plan," Reynolds said. "We were like, OK, don't throw anything over the plate."

Jones flied out to center in the first, walked in the fourth and grounded out to second on the first pitch he saw in the eighth.

That was it for Atlanta's biggest bat.

"That was the best pitch I saw all day," he said of the high changeup that Houston reliever Doug Henry gave him in the eighth. "That's what happens when you get a little frustrated. The first thing you see you try to kill."

The win was big for the Astros not only to show themselves and the rest of the baseball-watching world that they could beat Atlanta, but to set up their next two games. Houston has 21-game winner Jose Lima going Wednesday (against 18-game winner Kevin Millwood), and the Astros will follow that up with 22-game winner Mike Hampton on Friday in Houston.

No matter how good the Braves were playing -- or maybe still are -- that's a huge challenge.

"We would rather have won the first game. Somebody had to lose it," said Bobby Cox, the Braves' manager, in his typically curmudgeonly way. "We can reel off a bunch ourselves. We are not actually running minced meat out there."

No, but if the Braves don't get back into this thing quickly -- say, on Wednesday afternoon -- the so-called Team of the '90s could find itself out of time.

Related information
MLB Scoreboard: How They Scored: Houston at Atlanta
Astros-Braves box score, Game 1
CNN/SIís Paul Crane chats with Houstonís Ken Caminiti about the importance of winning on the road. (217 K)
Caminiti tells Crane about some missed opportunities. (223 K)
Caminiti says the Astros feel more relaxed. (141 K)
Shane Reynolds realizes his team canít get caught up in this first win. (122 K)
Chipper Jones is disappointed with the turnout at Turner Field. (121 K)
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