Playoff Series: Game 1 of 4

Houston won 3-1

Game 1: Wednesday, October 5
Game 2: Thursday, October 6
Game 3: Saturday, October 8
Game 4: Sunday, October 9
in 18

Astros 10


Braves 5


4:00 PM ET, October 5, 2005

Turner Field, Atlanta, Georgia 

123456789 R H E
HOU 102100150 10 11 1
ATL 100200011 5 9 0

W: A. Pettitte (1-0)

L: T. Hudson (0-1)

Pettitte, Astros snatch NLDS opener in Atlanta

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

Game 1 Breakdown
Unsung Hero
Lance Berkman. Not wanting to get beat by Berkman, the Braves pitched around the Astros' No. 3 hitter and walked him three times (once intentionally). Morgan Ensberg made them pay, going 3-for-4 with five RBI in the cleanup spot.

Tim Hudson. It wasn't a sharp outing for the Braves' starter, who couldn't settle into a groove and struggled with his control. The right-hander allowed five runs (all earned) on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings, walking five and hitting Orlando Palmeiro with pitches twice.

Turning Point
The bottom of the fourth inning. After cutting the Astros' lead to 4-3, the Braves had runners on first and second with one out -- but Brian Jordan grounded into a rally-killing double play, halting all their momentum. Atlanta didn't get another hit, or score again, until the eighth inning when the game was effectively over.

Important Stat
Andy Pettitte posted his record-tying 14th postseason win -- pulling even with John Smoltz (14-4) and improving to 14-8 in October -- by allowing just three runs on four hits in seven innings. The Astros' southpaw also went 1-for-2 at the plate with a double and scored a run.

On Deck
Game 2 is Thursday in Atlanta featuring a pair of ageless aces, and likely Hall of Famers. Roger Clemens (13-8, 1.87) takes the bump for Houston, and will be opposed by John Smoltz (14-7, 3.06). If Smoltz isn't on his game, it's going to be another short postseason for the Braves.

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 year.

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.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press