HOUSTON (Ticker) -- In his brief tenure as
touched had seemed to turn to gold. His good fortune ran out at a most inopportune time.
Garner and the Astros were pushed to a decisive Game Five in their National League Division Series as J.D. Drew's RBI single in the top of the ninth inning lifted the
to a stirring 6-5 triumph.
Garner guided a late charge that not only earned Houston the wild card playoff berth but also had the Astros one win away from the first postseason series triumph in franchise history. But the fiery skipper, who was burned by a botched double-switch earlier in the series, made a series of questionable decisions in this one.
The most costly decision Garner made came in the ninth when, with
at second and two outs, he opted to have righthander
(0-1) pitch to the lefthanded-hitting Drew with slumping
- a righthanded hitter - on deck.
The move backfired as Springer fell behind Drew, who lined a 3-2 pitch for a single into right-center field, easily scoring Furcal.
"(Furcal) is at the top of the order for a reason," Springer said. "He gets on base and scores runs. To Drew, I went with a fastball and I caught too much of the plate with it. I got two strikes on him and I wanted to run one a little in on him, but it got too much of the strike zone. He's a good hitter and that is just one of those things."
Giles was 2-for-19 in the series and hit 30 points lower against righthanders this season than Drew, but Garner said he had no designs on walking the Atlanta slugger.
"Not intentionally," Garner said. "But we did give him way too good a pitch to hit."
The winner was
(1-0), who escaped a dicey situation in the eighth, then worked out of real trouble in the ninth. With runners at the corners and one out, Smoltz got
- the most productive offensive second baseman of his era - to bounce into a game-ending double play.
"It's tough to score runs against him," Kent said of Smoltz. "You have to get a big lead against them early so you don't have to worry about him."
The normally reserved Smoltz let out a scream and pumped his fist as Furcal stepped on second and fired to first.
"I was honestly trying to get a double-play ball, get him to pull an outside pitch," Smoltz said. "It kind of happened in slow motion."
The win snapped Houston's 18-game winning streak at Minute Maid Park. The Astros had not lost at home since August 22.
"Streaks are streaks, they have got to come to an end sometime," Atlanta manager
Game Five is Monday in Atlanta. The Braves are expected to go with Game One starter
while the Astros - who are 0-7 in postseason series - are planning to go with 20-game winner
"It's not comfortable, but I think tomorrow everyone is going to know what they are going to need to do," Braves center fielder
said. "If we do that, and take care of business, we'll be fine. We need to do all the little things, to get the guy over, get those guys in and we'll be fine."
The Astros also thought they would be OK.
"We've been doing this for a while now and I think we'll be all right," said Houston left fielder
, who hit a three-run homer in a five-run second inning.
The Braves appeared headed toward their third first-round exit in as many years when the Astros scored five times in the second inning to take a 5-2 lead.
Qualls grooved his next offering to rookie
, who hammered it over the wall in right-center field.
"I was just trying to hit something hard," LaRoche said. "He left the slider up and I got some good wood on it."
"It's tough to go out there and blow a three-run lead in a game where you have a chance to clinch the division series, but I have to move on and I will," Qualls said.
Clemens had escaped jams in the third and fourth innings but cruised through the fifth. Garner said the 42-year-old righthander was spent, forcing the manager's hand.
"I spoke with Roger after the end of the fourth inning," Garner said. "He was running on fumes then, but he was obviously tired in the fifth."
"I thought they were going to take me out after four innings, I begged and pleaded for them to let me out there for the fifth," Clemens said. "I felt good considering what my body went through. I felt pretty good."
Clemens allowed two runs and six hits in five innings.
After Houston wasted a leadoff double in the first, Atlanta scored twice in the second against Clemens, stringing together three straight singles.
In the bottom of the inning, Kent and
had base hits and, one out later,
walked to load the bases. Clemens helped his cause with a sacrifice fly and Biggio made it 4-2 with a three-run homer to left.
During Biggio's plate appearance, he hit a ball that hit a girder in foul territory and caromed back into the field of play. Under Minute Maid Park ground rules, the ball was ruled foul and, two pitches later, Biggio homered.
"I made the pitch I wanted (to Biggio) and he popped it up, just it was just high enough to hit the roof," Braves starter
said. "It was just high enough to get him out of it."
The Astros threatened in the eighth, putting runners at the corners with two outs against Smoltz, but second baseman Giles made a stellar defensive play on pinch hitter
to end the inning.
It was a double-switch by Garner in the seventh that forced him to hit for Lidge in the eighth and pitch Springer in the ninth.
"I have been doing it for a long time," Garner said of the double-switch. "I do it in tie games, I do it when we're ahead. I don't do it when we're down."