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Updated: Monday, October 10, 2005 1:52 AM EDT



  R H E  
Braves 6 13 0 WP: Clemens (1-1)
LP: Devine (0-1)  
Astros 7 10 1
Burke's home run in 18th sends Astros to NLCS

HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Chris Burke ended the longest game in postseason history and sent the Atlanta Braves off to another long offseason.

Burke's solo homer in the bottom of the 18th inning gave the Houston Astros a thrilling 7-6 victory over the Braves to clinch their National League Division Series.

Game Two starter Roger Clemens (1-1) made just his second career relief appearance and tossed three scoreless innings for the Astros, who will face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS for the second straight year.

At 5 hours, 50 minutes, the game easily surpassed the previous longest contest in postseason history, a 5 hour, 22 minute contest between the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants in the 2000 NLDS. It also was the longest game in terms of innings, besting the 16-inning contest between the Astros and Mets in Game Six of the 1986 NLCS.

"I can't imagine a better game with as much on the line as this game and to have performances on both sides of the field that were as critical and as good as they were," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "It was unfortunate that somebody had to win or had to lose this game. I'm certainly glad we won."

"I haven't been in too many games exactly like this one," said Braves manager Bobby Cox , whose teams have won 14 straight division titles but just one World Series in that stretch.

Pitching on three days' rest, Tim Hudson yielded just one run through seven innings and handed a 6-1 lead to closer Kyle Farnsworth after the first two batters reached in the eighth.

"Up 6-1 and coming in the eighth, I felt that we were going back to Atlanta (for Game Five)," said Farnsworth, who had converted all 10 of his save opportunities since joining the Braves at the trade deadline. "But they battled hard."

Farnsworth issued a one-out walk before surrendering a grand slam to Lance Berkman that cut Houston's deficit to 6-5.

"Farnsworth has been nails for us all year, but he gave up the runs tonight," Hudson said. "Without him, we wouldn't have gotten here. All the other guys stepped up too."

After Farnsworth retired the first two batters in the ninth, Brad Ausmus hit a 2-0 pitch just over the yellow line on the left-center field wall to tie the game.

"It seems like days ago when Lance and Brad went deep," Clemens said.

Both bullpens kept the game even until the 18th, when Burke drove the third pitch from Joey Devine (0-1) into the left field seats, sending the crowd at Minute Maid Park into a frenzy.

"The best part about it is knowing that we don't have to go back to Atlanta," Burke said. "We had some bats out of the lineup and everyone was kind of hoping that we were going to do it with just one swing of the bat. Luckily I was the guy. I am fortunate to have big hits at all levels, but this is very gratifying."

"He got just enough wood on the ball," Devine said. "I saw it when it went out, and there wasn't much I could do about it. ... It was 18 innings of unbelievable, amazing baseball. This was the best baseball game I've ever been a part of."

Burke entered the game as a pinch runner for Berkman in the 10th.

"You get to a point in the game where a lot of position players that have been in the game for 15 or 16 innings get a little weary," Ausmus said. "The legs can get tired and your concentration wanes. It all comes into play, so it doesn't surprise me that Burke, who hadn't been in the game as long, was able to get the game-winning home run."

The Braves had runners in scoring position in the 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th and 17th, but failed to get the go-ahead run across the plate. Their best chance came in the 14th, when they loaded the bases with one out against Dan Wheeler . However, Wheeler struck out Brian McCann and got pinch hitter Pete Orr to ground out to end the threat.

The Braves stranded 18 runners overall and went 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position.

"It is very frustrating when we had the opportunities to score, and we didn't," Atlanta first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "We got runs early, but we left too many men on base, and I did it too. We have to capitalize off opportunities when we get them, and they gave us a lot of chances."

Wheeler was one of seven Houston relievers who combined to allow just one run in 13 2/3 innings.

"That is just part of our job," Wheeler said. "That is what we are trained to do every time I get the ball. No matter what the situation, whether we are down six or up six. In a tie game, you can't afford to give up a run, but that is what we do. We want to go out there and get our team back up to the plate with a chance to win."

Wheeler was the last reliever in Houston's bullpen, forcing manager Phil Garner to turn to the 43-year-old Clemens, who pitched five innings Thursday.

"That is one job I don't want, just sitting out there all alone in the bullpen chewing gum and looking around," said Clemens, who had not pitched out for the bullpen since his rookie year in 1984. "That is not a lot of fun. I'm just real happy that we are moving on."

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner pinch hit for Wheeler in the 15th and allowed just one hit while striking out four, throwing 26 of 44 pitches for strikes.

"He might have thrown 10, 20 innings, and I'm honest with you when I say that," Garner said. "I think he was prepared to do whatever it took. I've never seen anyone like him. He's amazing."

"I'm trying to continue to keep that fire in my belly," Clemens said. "It's games like this that can just rekindle that."

Luke Scott nearly won it for the Astros in the 10th, when his drive off Chris Reitsma just missed the foul pole in left field. Houston threatened again in the 15th, but Morgan Ensberg grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and second.

The Braves took the lead in the third. Brandon Backe issued a pair of walks and hit a batter to load the bases for LaRoche, who belted a 1-1 pitch over the right-center field fence for a 4-0 lead.

Andruw Jones ' sacrifice fly in the fifth made it 5-0 and McCann hit a solo blast in the eighth to give Atlanta a 6-1 edge.

McCann, who hit a big three-run homer in Atlanta's Game Two victory, went 1-for-8 and left 10 runners on base for the Braves, who lost in the NLDS for the fourth straight year.