HOUSTON - Never mind the 18 innings and nearly six hours that it took Houston to beat the Atlanta Braves on Sunday to win the teams' division series.
No, the wackiest result of the day could be measured merely in terms of Atlanta's maligned, motley crew of relievers. More specifically, the improbability of performances from the bullpen, besides closer Kyle Farnsworth, which was asked to carry the game from the 10th inning to the 18th inning.
Farnsworth, sturdy and durable down the stretch, gave up a five-run lead when asked to get the game's final six outs to force the marathon. And force his relief mates in action.
The rest of the 'pen, the usual suspects who seemed to prolong the inevitable with each pitch, gave the Braves' bats inning after inning to push ahead, although that never happened.
Atlanta left 18 runners on base in the game.
After Farnsworth gave up three runs and allowed two more inherited runners to score in the eighth and ninth innings, Chris Reitsma, John Thomson, Jim Brower and Joey Devine combined to allow just one hit in the next 8 2/3 innings.
Before recording another out to continue the insanity, Astros rookie Chris Burke ended the game with a solo homer off Devine, who was pitching for North Carolina State when Atlanta's season began.
"You've got to tip your hat to the guys in the bullpen," said starter Tim Hudson, who pitched seven-plus innings on three days' rest before handing a 6-1 lead to Farnsworth.
"They've taken a lot of heat all year," Hudson said of the relievers. "Those guys came in and put up zeroes, making big pitches, getting big outs. ... I have a lot of respect for those guys."
Hudson went over and spoke quietly with Farnsworth after the game in the team's locker room. He said he assured him the Braves wouldn't have been in Game 4 of the NLDS without his help since his arrival from Detroit at the trade deadline.
Farnsworth went 10-for-10 in save chances after assuming the role of closer in late August.
"He's been nails for us all year," Hudson said. "Without him, we wouldn't be here. People have got to understand that. It's tough. He's been our best guy out of the pen all year. It stinks."
RECORD BOOKS: Predictably, Atlanta and Houston's 18-inning classic notched a few lines in the baseball record book.
No postseason game has ever lasted as long - both in terms of innings and time elapsed.
Houston's eventual win surpassed the 16-inning 1986 NLCS Game 6 between the Astros and Mets. And it was a minute longer, at five hours, 50 minutes, than the Red Sox and Yankees' Game 5 of last year's ALCS.
Also, the 42 combined players used in the game set a Division Series record. The 14 total pitchers tied a divisional record.
BRAVES BEATER: Chipper Jones said that Burke was one of the last two or three Astros he would have expected to have beaten the Braves with a homer.
The Southeastern Conference's 2001 Player of the Year, the University of Tennessee graduate said he typically gives passing thought toward a home run when he gets a 2-0 count.
Devine gave Burke the fastball he was looking for, and he stuck it in the left field seats.
"I've been fortunate to have some big hits," he said, "but obviously nothing even comes close to this."
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