2001 MLB Postseason

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Atlanta Braves 1
Houston Astros 0
Posted: Wednesday October 10, 2001 06:45 PM
Atlanta Braves
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Houston Astros
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HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Baseball has been described as a game of inches. For the Houston Astros over the last five postseasons, it has been even closer than that.

Tom Glavine and John Smoltz combined on a seven-hitter and the game's lone run scored on a double-play grounder as the Atlanta Braves posted a 1-0 triumph over the Astros for a commanding two games to none lead in their National League Division Series.

Houston's 13th loss in its last 15 postseason games was yet another heartbreaker. The Braves' only run was aided by a throwing error by shortstop Julio Lugo, who also committed a costly miscue in Game One.

If that was not enough, the Astros saw a potential go-ahead homer by Brad Ausmus in the fifth inning hit the top of the 19-foot wall in left field.

Then, with a runner at first and one out in the eighth, Braves second baseman Marcus Giles made a diving stop on a grounder by Craig Biggio and turned it into a key out.

Jeff Bagwell started the ninth against Smoltz with a single, but All-Star Lance Berkman scorched a grounder to first base that Julio Franco turned into a double play. Moises Alou popped to second for the final out.

"I got some decent pitches and I swung really hard," Berkman said. "Unfortunately, I hit it right to first. It's pretty tough. It's just one of those things where the slightest mistake or the smallest break can make the difference."

The Braves have been the primary antagonists in the Astros' postseason frustration, defeating Houston eight times in nine Division Series games over the last five years. Many of the contests have followed the same script as the Astros do not hit enough and do not get many breaks.

Only two teams have come back from an 0-2 deficit in the Division Series. The 1995 Seattle Mariners and 1999 Boston Red Sox accomplished the feat, but both were home for Game Three. This series heads to Atlanta for Game Three on Friday.

"Today was the pivotal game," Braves right fielder Brian Jordan said. "We can relax a little bit now and play our game. But by no means is this series over. Houston is not just going to roll over. I know that they feel that their backs are against the wall, but we know that they are going to play hard."

"I think when you get up 2-0, that's great," Giles added. "We know that they are not going to give up, but our pitchers are going to keep stepping up. Everything is magnified in a five-game series, especially the booted balls, but that's going to happen."

The Braves have won an unprecedented 10 straight division titles but are coming off a season in which they recorded their fewest wins since 1990. They had dropped seven straight postseason games before Tuesday's win and have a golden opportunity to advance to the NL Championship Series for the ninth time in 11 years.

"They have a great team," Biggio said. "They have 10 straight division championships, but today we didn't get the breaks we needed, and that's the way it goes. It's the little things that go unnoticed in the boxscore that made the difference today."

"Well, I don't feel good about going on the road 0-2. I wouldn't feel good about staying here 0-2," Astros manager Larry Dierker said. "I mean, it's very difficult to get down this far to a good team in a five-game playoff and still win. But we have been a better road team. If we are able to win two games there, then I feel like we're due to win one here."

The excitement was tempered for Braves manager Bobby Cox, who learned his sister, Joy Rogers, suffered a brain hemorrhage Wednesday morning in Birmingham, Alabama. Cox plans to drive to Alabama once the team returns to Atlanta.

Glavine (1-0), who has been a mainstay for the Braves during their phenomenal playoff success, was at his best in his 28th postseason start. The veteran lefthander allowed six singles and two walks in eight innings, struck out three and improved to 3-1 lifetime in Division Series play.

Glavine continued his dominance of the Astros. He has not lost to Houston in the regular season or playoffs since June 4, 1995 -- a span of 14 games -- and is unbeaten in 12 straight starts in Houston since June 25, 1991.

"I think that we've been in a situation against these guys where seemingly we've done everything we needed to do and everything's gone our way and we've won some series against these guys," Glavine said. "But I think that in playoff situations, what's happened in the past, you kind of throw it out the window. If you believe in a law of averages, then you got to believe sooner or later things are going to go right for these guys but you don't know if it's going to be this year or somewhere down the road.

"You don't take that stuff for granted. The best thing we can do if we do have a psychological advantage in this series is to go out there, play good baseball, force them to make plays and to do things and then see if they do it. If they don't, we've got to take advantage of them."

The Astros got a solid start from journeyman righthander Dave Mlicki (0-1), who allowed just an unearned run over five innings. Making his postseason debut, Mlicki gave up four hits and a walk.

The game's only run came in the second inning. B.J. Surhoff led off with a double into the left-field corner and Franco grounded sharply up the middle. Lugo made a diving stab but threw wildly to first, allowing Franco to reach and Surhoff to take third. Rey Sanchez followed with a bouncer to shortop and, with the infield back, Houston turned a double play.

"I just expected it to be right at Lugo but he made a diving play," Surhoff said. "Once he dove and got it, I froze, kind of went back to the base. The ball was in the dirt, I thought it squirted away and I thought I had a good chance to go to third."

Lugo's failure to field a double-play grounder in Game One keyed a four-run eighth inning.

"There's nothing that I can do, it just happened," Lugo said. "I can't take it back. I wish I could, but I can't."

"He made a great play stopping it," Mlicki added. "It was a good hit up the middle and he stopped it. He did what he could with it and that's all that you could ask."

Mlicki was bailed out by double plays in the first, third and fifth innings, and Houston had its best chance to tie in the bottom of the fifth. Vinny Castilla singled with one out and Ausmus, who homered in Game One, missed putting the Astros ahead by less than a foot.

His blast caromed off the top of the wall and Ausmus was held to a single. Dierker sent Chris Truby up as a pinch hitter, but he struck out on a 3-2 pitch. Biggio grounded out and was 0-for-4, falling to 1-for-8 in the series.

Biggio is 6-for-50 lifetime in postseason play.

"I'm not going to take a stance on that," Biggio said. "We just need to get some guys on, catch some breaks and find some ways to get them in."

"It would have been nice if it could have eeked over the wall, but if you don't score you don't win," Ausmus said. "That hit had a lot of topspin and I didn't know if I got enough of it."

Octavio Dotel, who was bypassed by Dierker in Game One, cruised through the sixth. Berkman bounced into a double play in the bottom of the inning and, after Dotel worked out of a jam in the seventh, Castilla grounded into a double play in the Astros' half of the inning.

After Houston's Mike Jackson gave up a one-out double in the eighth, Nelson Cruz came on and got out of the inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Astros got a one-out single from pinch hitter Jose Vizcaino, who moved up on a grounder by Biggio. But with Bagwell on deck, Lugo flied weakly to right-center to end the inning.

Billy Wagner, who surrendered the decisive home run in Game One, pitched a scoreless ninth and Bagwell opened the bottom of the inning with a sharp single to left. Berkman laced a grounder to Franco, a 43-year-old converted middle infielder who turned a spiffy double play. Alou popped out to right as Smoltz earned his second save in as many days.

The seven double plays set a Division Series record.


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