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Astros Take First From Braves


Daryle Ward, who started the season in Triple-A, is making a big impact in October for the Houston Astros.

Ward's leadoff homer against Greg Maddux in the sixth inning sent the Astros on their way to a 6-1 victory Tuesday over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the NL division series.

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.

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Game Summary

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  • "This is great, but we've got a long way to go," Houston's Jeff Bagwell said. "It's only one game against the Atlanta Braves. They can come back in a heartbeat."

    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."

    The Astros sealed the victory in the ninth with four runs against reliever Mike Remlinger. Carl Everett had a sacrifice fly before Ken Caminiti haunted the Braves again with a three-run homer.

    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.


    AP
    Greg Maddux walked a surprising four batters Tuesday.
    But Maddux escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam by pitching out on an attempted squeeze bunt by Reynolds. Caminiti, breaking from third, was tagged by Jones just short of home.

    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.

    Notes

  • Ernie Johnson, who retired after nearly four decades as a Braves broadcaster, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
  • The pitchers for Game 2: Atlanta's Kevin Millwood (18-7) against Houston's Jose Lima (21-10).
  • Houston's Larry Dierker is only the fourth manager in baseball history to lead his team to first-place finishes in each of his first three seasons. The others: Detroit's Hughie Jennings (1907-09), Ralph Houk of the New York Yankees (1961-63) and Jim Frey with Kansas City (1980, second half of '81) and Cubs.

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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