Pettitte, Astros snatch NLDS opener in Atlanta

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Houston Astros figured their pitching would
have to carry them through the postseason.

Instead, the offense came up big in the very first game.

Morgan Ensberg had five RBI and 39-year-old leadoff hitter
Craig Biggio was in the middle of just about every rally, leading
Houston past the Atlanta Braves 10-5 in Game 1 of their NL playoff
series Wednesday.

Andy Pettitte overcame two homers to join Atlanta's John Smoltz
as the winningest pitcher in postseason history, a mark that Smoltz
can reclaim for himself when he goes against Roger Clemens in Game
2 on Thursday.

Houston is trying to beat the Braves in the opening round for
the second year in a row, but in a decidedly different manner than
the power-hitting team that pulled off a five-game triumph last

That team had Carlos Beltran, Jeff Kent and a healthy Jeff
Bagwell. This team is built around the starting rotation: Pettitte,
Clemens and 20-game winner Roy Oswalt.

"Obviously, we had some pretty big bats last year," Biggio
said. "But this year's lineup isn't so bad, either."

The Astros, who led the National League in ERA but ranked 11th
in runs, had no trouble scoring on Tim Hudson and the shaky Braves
bullpen. Houston pecked away with eight singles, nine walks and two
hit batters. Three doubles -- one of them by Pettitte -- were the
only extra-base hits.

The Braves went with Hudson for the opener instead of Smoltz,
who's been bothered by a stiff shoulder. Manager Bobby Cox figured
Hudson was just as good a choice, a former 20-game winner who
pitched in four postseasons with Oakland.

But the right-hander was roughed up for five runs in 6 2/3
innings -- the most he had allowed since a June 13 loss at Texas,
which preceded a stint on the disabled list.

"The first few innings, I just overthrew it," said Hudson, who
gave up seven hits, walked five and hit a batter. "I made an
adjustment about the fourth and started feeling pretty good. But I
took too long to make the adjustment."

Pettitte, improving to 14-8 in the postseason, pitched four-hit
ball over seven innings -- more than good enough the way the Astros
were hitting Hudson.

"I was surprised we put the runs on him," Pettitte said. "I'm
not going to lie to you. He's tough."

Not on this day, and Houston turned a 5-3 game into a blowout
with five runs in the eighth, sending 11 batters to the plate
against relievers Chris Reitsma, John Foster and Jim Brower.

Biggio played the role of leadoff hitter to perfection. He had
two hits, a sacrifice fly, a sac bunt and a walk in six trips to
the plate. He scored three times.

Ensberg tied a Houston postseason record with his five RBI. He
had a run-scoring single in the first, a two-run single in the
third, another RBI single in the seventh and walked with the bases
loaded in the eighth. Manager Phil Garner flip-flopped his lineup
to get Lance Berkman hitting ahead of Ensberg, who dropped to the
cleanup spot. The Braves walked Berkman three times -- once
intentionally -- and Ensberg made them pay.

"There's virtually no pressure on me," Ensberg said. "The
pitcher has got to throw it over the plate. I got some good pitches
to hit in those situations."

A year ago, the Astros knocked off Atlanta in the division
series for the first postseason victory in franchise history.
Pettitte wasn't around for that one, sitting out after
season-ending elbow surgery. He came back to have a dominant
season, winning 17 games and posting the second-best ERA in the
National League behind Clemens.

Houston scored only 13 runs in six regular-season games against
the Braves, losing five of those meetings -- two by shutout. But
those games came early in a season that began miserably for the
Astros, who bounced back to capture the wild card.

Atlanta got homers from Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones -- usually
a formula for success. The Braves are 44-6 when both connect in a
regular-season game.

But this is the postseason, which has provided plenty of misery
for a franchise with 14 straight division titles but only one World
Series championship during that amazing run.

The Braves went down in the opening round the last three years,
each time starting with a Game 1 loss at Turner Field. Now, they're
in the hole again.

"It's just a helpless feeling out there," Chipper Jones said.
"You know if you score four or five runs against this caliber of
ballclub, that's about as good as you're going to do. For it to get
out of hand the way it did in the eighth, it's frustrating."

Atlanta even tried to change its playoff fortunes by ditching
the normal white home jersey in favor of a red top, which debuted
this season and had been used only for Sunday home games.

It didn't work.

Hudson got off to a rough start. Biggio singled up the middle on
the second pitch of the game, moved to second on a bunt and came
home on Ensberg's single to center.

Chipper Jones tied it in the bottom half on an opposite-field
homer to right, but the Astros reclaimed the lead with two runs in
the third. Once again, Biggio got things started -- this time with a
double -- and Ensberg finished up with a two-run single to left.

Biggio was at it again in the fourth. Brad Ausmus led off with a
double and was bunted to third before the leadoff hitter managed a
sacrifice fly to medium center for a 4-1 lead.

Hudson was actually fortunate that Houston didn't build a bigger
lead. He escaped the first-inning jam with a double play, and
surprise starter Brian Jordan made a brilliant play in left field
in the second to deny Everett a two-run homer.

Jordan, who played only 76 games and was hobbled much of the
season by a sore knee, drifted back to the warning track, timed his
leap perfectly and caught the ball before his glove slammed into
the yellow line atop the wall.

Andruw Jones, who ended the season in a 6-of-51 slump, brought
the Braves to 4-3 with a two-run homer in the fourth.

But that was as close as they got.

Game notes
Ensberg tied the Houston postseason record of five RBI set
by Beltran in Game 5 of last year's playoff victory over the
Braves. ... The Astros set a division series record with four
sacrifice bunts. ... The crowd of 40,590 was about 10,000 short of
a sellout.