for this game

Astros keep alive slim playoff hopes

Oct 1, 2006 - 2:26 AM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- The Houston Astros have something to play for on the final day of the regular season.

With their season on the line, the Astros took advantage of some sloppy defense by the Atlanta Braves to score three runs in the top of the ninth inning en route to a 5-4 victory.

Facing the prospect of being eliminated from postseason contention with a loss, the Astros found themselves locked in a 2-2 tie after Trever Miller (2-3) surrendered a solo homer to Adam LaRoche in the bottom of the eighth inning.

However, the Astros broke through in the ninth by capitalizing on errors by second baseman Marcus Giles and shortstop Edgar Renteria.

The Astros (82-79) remained 1 1/2 games behind St. Louis (83-77) in the National League Central Division. But their hopes of making the playoffs for a third straight season remain extremely slim.

Houston needs a win Sunday and St. Louis must lose twice just to force a one-game playoff. St. Louis hosts Milwaukee on Sunday, then would entertain San Francisco on Monday in a makeup game if needed.

"Let's hope (tomorrow) is not the end of it, Houston manager Phil Garner said. "Let's hope there's another day. Let's home that (St. Louis) goes to Monday. We win tomorrow and they lose.

Brad Ausmus reached to open the ninth against Bob Wickman (0-2) when Giles bobbled his grounder at second base. Pinch hitter Chris Burke reached on an infield hit and since he was going on a 3-2 pitch, Ausmus raced to third.

Another pinch hitter, Orlando Palmeiro lined a single into right field to snap the 2-2 tie.

"I got beat with that ball," Palmeiro said. "He threw a good fastball that got in on me. But I got a hit. I'll take the hit.

"I made a bad pitch to Palmeiro, Wickman said. I was trying to keep him on the ground. He fought it off and got a base hit out of it. I had a chance to polish (Burke) off and I didn't polish him off. It's my fault.

After Mike Lamb bounced into a forceout, the Astros again received some help that plated what were two huge insurance runs.

Lance Berkman hit a sharp grounder to Renteria at shortstop. But Renteria made a wild throw to second, allowing two runs to score as Houston took a 5-2 lead. Berkman was credited with an RBI, giving him 135 to tie Jeff Bagwell's franchise record set in 1997.

It's been a rough ride for us this year, Berkman said. "The (win) is the most important thing. It's nerve racking. You can never relax. You have to take it as it comes."

After their big top of the ninth, the Astros had to hold on in the bottom of the frame. Brad Lidge gave up a leadoff single to Renteria, then retired the next two batters before being pulled in favor of Dan Wheeler, who managed to make things very interesting.

Wheeler surrendered run-scoring singles to Brian McCann and Daryle Ward that pulled the Braves within 5-4. But he struck out LaRoche to end it for his ninth save.

"It was nerve racking," Garner said. We can't do it the easy way, can we? Bottom line is that we got it done."

Pitching on three days' rest and named the starter only three and a half hours before the game while the St. Louis game is in progress, Andy Pettitte gave the Astros a big effort. The lefthander went seven innings, giving up one run and four hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.

"I mentioned to (manager Phil Garner) last night and told him I'll go whenever you want me to, Pettitte said. He said no way. I was in the food room today at 3:15 and he asked me if I wanted to pitch today. Fifteen minutes later, I said if you want me to pitch, I'll pitch ... That's why I came here to pitch in big situations.

"His postseason numbers speak for themselves," Ausmus said. If I have to win a game, Andy Pettitte would be my pitcher.

Berkman gave Pettitte the lead with two outs in the first when he launched his 45th homer, a 449-foot blast over the right field fence.

Aubrey Huff's 13th homer, a solo shot with one out in the sixth, off Lance Cormier gave the Astros a 2-0 lead.

Giles converted a safety squeeze in the bottom of the inning to get the Braves on the board.

Cormier gave up two runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. The righthander walked two and struck out one.

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