Originally created 10/10/01

Braves 7, Astros 4

HOUSTON -- Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves remembered how to win in October. And the Houston Astros still haven't figured it out.

Jones hit a three-run homer off nemesis Billy Wagner in the eighth inning and the Braves ended a seven-game postseason losing streak, beating the Houston Astros 7-4 Tuesday in the opener of their first-round NL playoff series.

Jones homered on Wagner's first pitch, right after an error by Houston shortstop Julio Lugo on a grounder that could've ended the inning with the score tied at 3.

It was the seventh straight blown save in the playoffs for the Astros, who have never won a playoff series. Houston was eliminated by the Braves in 1997 and again in 1999.

"We've always had good pitching and so have they, but the ball bounces our way probably a little more," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.

Game 2 will be Wednesday afternoon, with Tom Glavine starting for Atlanta against Dave Mlicki. Glavine is 9-0 in 11 starts in Houston since June 1991, while Mlicki, almost demoted to the bullpen two months ago, will be making his first postseason start.

Jones, who was 0-for-8 with six strikeouts lifetime against Wagner, capped a four-run rally in the eighth by hitting the first pitch from the hard-throwing left-hander barely over the high wall in left field.

"He rushes it up there pretty good," Jones said. "Fortunately, I was able to get a good part of the bat on it and eek it out. He's a guy who serves it up there and says, 'Here it is, hit it."'

John Smoltz, making his postseason debut as a full-time closer, pitched two innings for the save. He gave up Vinny Castilla's leadoff homer in the ninth.

Rudy Seanez, who threw the seventh, got his first playoff win.

Greg Maddux, who ended the season in a seven-game winless streak, his longest since 1991, allowed three runs, two earned, on four hits in six innings. He struck out five and was helped by two double plays and Andruw Jones' superb diving catch of a sure leadoff double by Jeff Bagwell in the second inning.

"I thought I pitched about as well as I can pitch today, and I still gave up three runs," Maddux said.

The Braves' last postseason win came in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS against the New York Mets. They were swept by the New York Yankees in the '99 World Series and by St. Louis in the first round last year.

The Astros, who won the Central for the fourth time in five years after blowing a 5 1/2 -game lead with 12 left, overcame a 2-0 deficit to lead 3-2 behind a two-run homer by Brad Ausmus and an RBI groundout from Moises Alou.

Former President Bush and wife, Barbara, were among those soaking in the sunshine for the first outdoor playoff game on grass in Houston. The noon start, however, likely contributed to the thousands of empty seats in the upper sections of Enron Field.

The early start drew a crowd of only 35,553, far short of the capacity of 40,950.

Many of those fans left when Andruw Jones led off the ninth with a home run off Mike Williams. That made five runs against the bullpen after starter Wade Miller gave up just two runs on seven hits in seven innings. He struck out two and didn't walk any.

"He pitched a great game," said Astros manager Larry Dierker. "He should've been the winning pitcher."

Brian Jordan put the Braves up 2-0 with a sacrifice fly in the first inning and a solo homer with two out in the fourth. Houston rallied behind a two-run homer by Ausmus and an RBI groundout from Alou, all off Maddux.

Atlanta tied it in the eighth when reliever Mike Jackson allowed a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Keith Lockhart and an RBI single by Marcus Giles, bringing in Wagner to face Jones.

Going from the righty Jackson to lefty Wagner forced Jones to hit right-handed, his weaker side. He had only eight of his 38 homers that way, plus the lopsided record against Wagner.

"We've had that a couple of times, a guy who's been absolutely helpless against one of our pitchers gets a hit," Dierker said. "It's the kind of thing that happens."

Notes: This was only the third game this season that Maddux has walked three and the first since June 15, when he allowed a season-high four to Boston. ... Ausmus, a career .259 hitter, came in hitting .400 against Maddux. ... Braves manager Bobby Cox said he'll use a three-man rotation, bringing back Maddux for Game 4 Saturday, if necessary. ... The Astros wasted no time commemorating their Central title, posting a large white banner above the wall in left-center field. It's much larger than the metal flags honoring the previous five division titles. ... Braves infielder Ken Caminiti, a former Astro, received warm applause during pregame introductions. ... The Texas A&M corps of cadets brought a large flag to center for a prayer and moment of silence. A quartet of Houston police officers sang the national anthem. Five members of the Texas Task Force 1, Urban Search and Rescue Team went to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch, which was thrown by their team leader. They received a standing ovation.


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