Berkman, Ausmus bring Astros back; Burke's HR wins it

HOUSTON (AP) -- Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros gave a whole

new meaning to the word "longevity."

Game 4 Breakdown

Unsung Hero

Roger Clemens. He was the last available pitcher for the Astros, and he was pitching on just two days' rest. But the lack of rest seemed to fuel the Rocket as he tossed three shutout innings of relief to earn the victory. In all, Clemens retired nine of the 11 batters he faced.


Joey Devine. The rookie right-hander, who began this season pitching in college for North Carolina State, was the sixth -- and final -- pitcher the Braves sent out to the mound. His 2-0 offering to Chris Burke in the bottom of the 18th inning wound up in the left-field seats, sending the Braves to a most-disappointing defeat.

Turning Point

The bottom of the 18th inning. With one out, Burke, also a rookie, stepped to the plate and sent the Astros to the NLCS with a solo homer off of Devine.

Important Stat

11. Of the 13 total runs scored in the game, 11 crossed the plate as a result of a home run.

On Deck

The Astros move on to play the Cardinals for the second straight year in the NLCS. Game 1 will be played on Wednesday in St. Louis. The Braves' season ends, and it marks the fourth year in a row in which they've lost in the Division Series.

The 43-year-old Rocket came out of the bullpen to rescue the

Astros and Chris Burke ended the longest postseason game in

baseball history with a home run in the 18th inning, lifting

Houston over the Atlanta Braves 7-6 Sunday and into the NL

championship series.

"I'm sure proud of the guys," Clemens said. "It's been a lot

of work for us. How 'bout the kid?"

Standing next to Clemens, the 25-year-old Burke was beaming.

"I'm just glad I could do my part," Burke said. "It was

draining, mentally draining."

The Braves took a five-run lead into the eighth, and were poised

to send this first-round series back to Atlanta for a decisive Game

5 Monday night. Instead, Lance Berkman hit a grand slam in the

eighth and Brad Ausmus tied Game 4 with a two-out homer in the

ninth barely beyond Gold Glove center fielder Andruw Jones'

outstretched glove.

Then, at 6-all, the Braves and Astros began the real endurance

test that wound up lasting 5 hours, 50 minutes. The previous

longest postseason game also occurred in Houston -- the New York

Mets clinched the 1986 NLCS with a 16-inning win at the Astrodome.

When Burke hit the homer, Clemens was in the dugout tunnel with

Craig Biggio, the 39-year-old second baseman who has spent his

entire career in Houston.

"We were like two tired old men walking out of the tunnel, and

then we were like two kids having a good time," Clemens said. "We

were holding each other up."

Longest postseason games by innings

18 innings

Houston 7, Atlanta 6, NLDS, Oct. 9, 2005

16 innings

New York 7, Houston 6, NLCS, Oct. 15, 1986

15 innings

New York 4, Atlanta 3, NLCS, Oct. 17, 1999

15 innings

New York 7, Seattle 5, ALDS, Oct. 4, 1995

14 innings

Boston 5, New York 4, ALCS, Oct. 18, 2004

14 innings

Boston Red Sox 2, Brooklyn 1, World Series, 1916

13 innings

New York 3, San Francisco 2, NLDS, Oct. 7, 2000

13 innings

Cleveland 5, Boston 4, ALDS, Oct. 3, 1995

With Clemens pitching three scoreless innings in his first

relief appearance since 1984 -- and this time atoning for a poor

start in Game 2 -- the Astros advanced to play the St. Louis

Cardinals in the NLCS starting Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.

"If he comes in a game like that, you know it has to be

important to him," Jones said. "He was going to try not to make

any mistakes, and he didn't. He pitched great."

Clemens gave up one hit and struck out four, setting up the

first NLCS rematch since Pittsburgh and Atlanta played in 1991-92.

Last October, the Cardinals beat Clemens in Game 7, denying the

Astros their first World Series appearance.

And it was another early October exit for the Braves, who have

won an unprecedented 14 straight division titles but have just one

World Series crown to show for it. The Astros eliminated Atlanta

last year.

"It never feels good, but I've had a couple of heartbreakers

where I could have won the game, but instead ended the season,"

Chipper Jones said. "You learn from that."

The Braves wasted an early grand slam by Adam LaRoche. Berkman's

shot made this the first postseason game ever with two slams.

Burke entered the game in the 10th inning as a pinch-runner. He

came up with one out in the 18th against rookie Joey Devine, and

launched a drive over the left-field wall.

Burke was mobbed his teammates at the plate after only the sixth

series-ending home run in history, and the first since Aaron Boone

sent the Yankees over Boston in the 11th inning of Game 7 in the

2003 ALCS.

Batting just before Burke, Clemens took a mighty swing and

missed against Devine before striking out. Clemens has never hit a

home run in the majors.

Clemens first entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the bottom

of the 15th, and had a sacrifice bunt after a leadoff walk by Craig

Biggio. But after another walk, Morgan Ensberg grounded into an

inning-ending double play.

"It was kind of a microcosm of our season," Burke said.

"Started out slow, finished strong."

Home runs that have ended playoff series (pitchers in parentheses)   (Source: AP)

Chris Burke

Houston vs. Atlanta, 2005 ALDS, Game 4, 18th inning

(Joey Devine)

Aaron Boone

New York Yankees vs. Boston, 2003 ALCS, Game 7,

11th inning (Tim Wakefield)

Todd Pratt

New York Mets vs. Arizona, 1999 NLDS, Game 4, 10th

inning (Matt Mantei)

Joe Carter

Toronto vs. Philadelphia, 1993 World Series, Game 6,

9th inning (Mitch Williams)

Chris Chambliss

New York Yankees vs. Kansas City, 1976 ALCS,

Game 5, 9th inning (Mark Littell)

Bill Mazeroski

Pittsburgh vs. New York Yankees, 1960 World

Series, Game 7, 9th inning (Ralph Terry)

The Astros started off 15-30 before rallying to claim the

wild-card spot, though they finished 11 games behind St. Louis in

the NL Central.

About three hours before the game finally ended, Ausmus hit his

unlikely homer off Kyle Farnsworth. In the eighth, Farnsworth -- the

latest in a long line of Atlanta relievers to fail in the

postseason -- gave up the grand slam to Berkman after replacing Tim


Ausmus, with just three homers in 134 regular-season games, hit

a ball that ricocheted off a column in left-center field -- just

above the yellow line signifying a home run. Had it hit about a

foot more to the left, the ball would have still been in play and

Ausmus held to a double.

The Astros thought they had another homer to win it in the 10th,

but Luke Scott's drive down the left-field line curled just left of

the pole. The crowd was already in a frenzy before realizing the

ball had been called foul -- TV replays confirmed that it was. Scott

grounded out on the next pitch.

Atlanta led 6-1 when Hudson, the Game 1 loser pitching on three

days' rest, allowed the first two hitters to reach in the eighth

and was pulled. Biggio reached on a fielder's choice grounder and

Scott walked before Berkman's grand slam, an opposite-field shot

into the seats in left.

Farnsworth managed to preserve the lead then, getting Ensberg on

a called third strike before Mike Lamb's flyball that right fielder

Jeff Francoeur caught on the warning track. He didn't have the same

success against No. 8 hitter Ausmus an inning later.

LaRoche hit a grand slam in the third off Astros starter Brandon

Backe, who loaded the bases after walking two batters and hitting

another. Jones added a sacrifice fly to put the Braves up 5-0 in

the fifth.

Brian McCann, the rookie catcher whose three-run homer off

Clemens was the big blow in Game 2, put the Braves up 6-1 when he

led off the eighth with a homer. McCann grounded out leading off

the 17th in a rematch against the future Hall of Famer.

Game notes
There were 553 total pitches. Clemens threw the last 44 of

Houston's 299 pitches. ... Nicole Oswalt, the wife of Astros

pitcher and Game 3 winner Roy Oswalt, sang the national anthem

before Sunday's game and "God Bless America" during the

seventh-inning stretch.