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Astros Have Enough Power for Long Haul

Burke's homer in the 18th inning ends the longest postseason game and eliminates the Braves, 7-6.

October 10, 2005|Ken Davidoff | Newsday

HOUSTON — Once each generation, it can now be assumed, this city shall produce a baseball game that will leave an indelible mark on everyone who played in it, officiated it or merely witnessed it. Even just watched it on television, far away from Minute Maid Park.

For those who weren't around for Game 6 of the 1986 National League championship series in the Astrodome, you now have Sunday.

The Houston Astros are headed to a rematch of last year's NL championship series with the St. Louis Cardinals, but only after surviving a remarkable 18-inning game. Rookie Chris Burke's home run against Atlanta Brave rookie Joey Devine gave the Astros a walk-off, 7-6 victory, completing a rally from a five-run hole that began 10 innings earlier.

The Astros won the best-of-five division series in four games, and they'll try to avenge last year's seven-game loss to the Cardinals.

Roger Clemens, making his first relief appearance since July 18, 1984 -- on the heels of his first pinch-hitting appearance -- picked up the victory with three shutout innings.

"I don't know if I've seen anything like this," Clemens said. "I've been in a lot of wonderful playoff games, a lot of wonderful World Series.... But this game here was incredible."

"How do you explain that game?" Astro Manager Phil Garner said. "That was like a softball game where everyone on the block gets to play."

Garner started at third base for the Astros on Oct. 15, 1986, in a 7-6 victory by the New York Mets in 16 innings, which was until Sunday the longest postseason game in innings. Sunday's game lasted 5 hours 50 minutes, eclipsing by a minute the record set in last year's Game 5 of the American League championship series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Besides the 42 players used, two grand slams and a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth, score-tying homer by non-slugging catcher Brad Ausmus, Sunday's game was nothing special.

"That's two teams going at it," said Devine, who was drafted by the Braves in June. "Just seeing guys go about it for 18 solid innings, and not give up one at-bat, not one pitch, it's pretty amazing."

The Braves seemed on their way to taking the series back home for a winner-take-all game. Tim Hudson, starting on three days' rest for Atlanta, gave up a run and five hits through seven innings. A third-inning grand slam by Adam LaRoche, against starter Brandon Backe, put the Braves ahead, 4-0, and they added runs in the fifth and eighth innings. The Astros picked up a run in the fifth.

Hudson tired in the eighth, however. With runners on first and second, Manager Bobby Cox turned to his closer, Kyle Farnsworth. One out later, Farnsworth gave up a grand slam to Lance Berkman that cut Atlanta's lead to 6-5.

Farnsworth retired the next four batters. But then Ausmus drove a 2-and-0 pitch just above the yellow line on the left-center-field wall to tie the score.

From the 10th through the 17th innings, the teams combined for five hits but only one by the Astros -- a double in the 10th by Berkman, who gave way to pinch-runner Burke. By game's end, only second baseman Craig Biggio and third baseman Morgan Ensberg had played the entire game at the same position for the Astros.

The Braves, who were one for 18 with runners in scoring position, kept seven of their eight position players intact.

Finally, after Clemens struck out to start the 18th inning, up came Burke. He looked at two balls, then hammered a fastball over the short left-field porch.

"It's like an out-of-body experience," Burke said, amid the champagne celebration.

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