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LaRoche, Drew victimize Houston relief

HOUSTON -- John Smoltz, Adam LaRoche and J.D. Drew saved the
Atlanta Braves from another quick playoff exit.

The Braves pounced on Houston's bullpen as soon as Roger Clemens
was gone, rallying from a three-run deficit for a 6-5 victory
Sunday that tied the best-of-five NL series at two games apiece.

LaRoche hit a tying, three-run homer in the sixth inning and
Drew singled home the go-ahead run in the ninth, handing the Astros
their latest agonizing loss in October and forcing the series back
to Atlanta for Game 5 on Monday.

"We get to go back home and the plane ride's a lot easier,"
Smoltz said. "We worked very hard to get home-field advantage and
we need to take care of it. I feel like we got a break today."

Jaret Wright, the Game 1 loser, starts for the Braves on Monday
at Turner Field against 20-game winner Roy Oswalt, who didn't get a
decision in Game 2 and will pitch on three days' rest.

Working on short rest himself, Clemens left after five innings
with a 5-2 lead, but the Braves rallied to snap Houston's 19-game
home winning streak. It was another wrenching postseason loss for
the Astros, still looking to win a playoff series for the first
time in their 43-season history.

"Streaks are streaks, they've got to come to an end some
time," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

Houston tried to mount its own comeback in the bottom of the
ninth, when Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman singled off Smoltz with
one out to put runners at the corners. Smoltz then got his record
14th postseason win when Jeff Kent grounded into a game-ending
double play.

On the verge of its third consecutive first-round loss, Atlanta
made its move right after Chad Qualls replaced Clemens. Chipper
Jones singled, Andruw Jones doubled with one out and LaRoche
homered into the Astros' bullpen in right.

"It was a little momentum swing, I think, for the guys that
were down, thinking this might be our last game," said the
24-year-old rookie, who hit his first postseason homer. "That
turned the emotions around and kind of gave guys a boost, I
think."

The winning rally began when Russ Springer, who relieved Brad
Lidge to start the ninth, hit Rafael Furcal with a pitch with two
outs and Furcal stole second.

Drew, hitless in three previous at-bats Sunday and 2-for-15 in
the series to that point, singled to right-center, with Furcal
scoring easily.

"Three runs is not enough against that team," Kent said. "And
then they bring in a guy like Smoltz, who is dominating. It's tough
to score runs against him. You have to get ahead against them early
so you don't have to face a guy like that."

Coming into Sunday, Clemens was 0-3 with a 6.98 ERA on three
days' rest. He was making a quick turnaround for the first time
since April 11, 2002. And he hadn't pitched on short rest in the
postseason since a loss to Oakland in 2000.

Not surprisingly, the 42-year-old Clemens got off to a rough
start.

He gave up three straight singles to begin the second, with
Andruw Jones driving in Chipper Jones. LaRoche followed by
grounding into a double play that scored Johnny Estrada to give
Atlanta a 2-0 lead.

Clemens got the Astros' offense going in the second with his
first postseason RBI, a sacrifice fly that scored Kent.

The inning appeared to end on Craig Biggio's popup that hit the
rafters and was caught by Atlanta starter Russ Ortiz. But the ball
was ruled foul, and Biggio followed with a three-run homer that
sailed over the left-field fence and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Carlos Beltran followed with a double and Bagwell singled him in
to give the Astros a 5-2 lead.

Shortly after that, the Jumbotron began showing an animated skit
in which swarms of killer bees buzz over the Braves' tomahawk. The
skit ended with a single word emblazoned across the Astros'
shooting star logo: Believe.

Not just yet. Houston fell apart when Clemens left, and the
sellout crowd of 43,335 got eerily quiet.

"I don't know what else to tell you except I went up there and
gave it everything I had," Clemens said.

Astros manager Phil Garner vigorously defended his decision to
remove Clemens, who retired his final five batters.

"He was at the end of his road," Garner said. "As a matter of
fact, he was on pure fumes. He got us through it. We had some
momentum, we had the lead. We let it slip away."

Chipper Jones had a different take on the Braves' comeback.

"We overcame a fluke five-run rally," he said. "You're just
thinking to yourself right there that there is no way we're going
to end our season on that note."

With the score tied at 5 in the eighth, Houston put runners at
the corners and threatened to take the lead.

Orlando Palmeiro hit a grounder that Marcus Giles scooped up and
deftly flipped to Smoltz -- just before Palmeiro got to the bag --
for the final out of the inning.

"This isn't a new situation," Houston catcher Brad Ausmus
said. "We've been on the cusp of being eliminated numerous times.
We've seen the end of the plank. We've seen the shark-infested
waters."

Game notes
Houston dropped to 1-5 in postseason Game 4s. ... The
Astros lost their first game at home since Aug. 22 against the
Chicago Cubs. ... Chipper Jones had two hits after going 0-for-11
in the first three games of the series. ... Houston set a
first-round record with eight homers in the series. ... Biggio hit
his first postseason homer.