The win provided hope that Houston will end its history of playoff failures, and was a troubling start for a team with its own postseason struggles.
The Braves have made an unprecedented eight straight playoff appearances, with only one World Series title to show for it. Now, they've got to win three of the next four games against Houston.
"The noose tightens a little quicker in the short series," Chipper Jones said. "It's important for us all to bring our `A' games to the ballpark tomorrow."
Playing for San Diego, Caminiti hit a 10th-inning homer against Kerry Ligtenberg to win the first game of the 1998 NL championship series. The Padres went on to a 4-2 victory over Atlanta.
The East champion Braves lost only their second division series game since the format was instituted in 1995. Before Tuesday, they were 12-1 overall, including 10 straight victories.
Houston, which clinched its third straight Central title on the final day of the season, has never won in five playoff series, including a 3-0 sweep by the Braves in 1997. The Astros won't get swept this year, seizing the home-field advantage in the best-of-5 series.
"Two years in a row, we lost the first game," Bagwell said. "This gives us tremendous momentum."
The Braves led the majors with 103 wins but drew the smallest crowd in Atlanta's 44-game postseason history.
The turnout of 39,119 was nearly 11,000 short of capacity at Turner Field and easily eclipsed the previous low of 42,117 for Game 1 of the 1998 NL championship series. In the right-field upper deck, only a few dozen people occupied seven sections of blue seats.
"It was certainly disappointing," Jones said.
Game 2 is Wednesday afternoon in Atlanta before the series shifts to Houston for Game 3 Friday.
Ward, the son of former major leaguer Gary Ward, was recalled from the minors for the second time on July 20. He took over for the slumping Derek Bell and came through with two of Houston's biggest hits this season: a two-run homer against Cincinnati last week and a three-run double Sunday in a 9-4 victory over Los Angeles, securing the division title.
On Tuesday, he came through again, hitting the first pitch of the sixth into the right-field seats against Maddux to break a 1-1 tie.
"There's not too much of a burden on me," Ward said. "No one is expecting me to do too much."
His dad, by the way, hit .276 with 130 homers in a solid 12-year career but never played in a postseason game.
The Braves managed seven hits against winner Shane Reynolds, who went six innings and allowed the lone run. He pitched around Jones, walking the MVP candidate twice on four pitches.
"He's kind of like Bagwell for us," said Reynolds, supported by hitless pitching over the final three innings by a trio of relievers. "He's the one guy in the lineup that you don't want to beat you."
The Astros went ahead in the second when Everett led off with a bunt single, Caminiti walked and Tony Eusebio drove in the run with a line drive up the middle.
|Greg Maddux walked a surprising four batters Tuesday.|
The Astros loaded the bases again with one out in the fifth, but Caminiti grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
The Braves tied it in their half of the inning, Gerald Williams driving home Jose Hernandez with a two-out single to center. The Braves then loaded the bases, but Ryan Klesko struck out swinging on a 90 mph fastball.
On the very next pitch, Ward homered into the first row of the right-field seats to open the sixth.
The Astros didn't leave for Atlanta until late Monday night, waiting at the Houston airport for the outcome of a wild-card playoff in Cincinnati. When the New York Mets beat the Reds 5-0, the chartered jet flew east.
Houston was a clear underdog against the powerful Braves, having lost six of seven meeting during the regular season.
Atlanta clinched its division with a week to go, winning 11 of its last 13 games. After a 12-game winning streak in September, Houston lost nine of its last 15.
Maddux was 19-9 during the regular season and had the same record lifetime against the Astros with a 2.30 ERA. But he also surrendered a career-high 258 hits, a trend that continued in the division series.
Maddux slipped to 9-9 lifetime in postseason play. He had been 4-0 in the division series.
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