Playoff Series: Game 3 of 4

Houston won 3-1

Game 1: Wednesday, October 5
Game 2: Thursday, October 6
Game 3: Saturday, October 8
Game 4: Sunday, October 9
in 18

Braves 3


Astros 7


7:30 PM ET, October 8, 2005

Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas 

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ATL 020000010 3 8 0
HOU 20100040 - 7 12 1

W: R. Oswalt (1-0)

L: J. Sosa (0-1)

Oswalt, Biggio lead Astros to brink of NLCS

HOUSTON (AP) -- Roy Oswalt stumbled and fell on his rear right in the middle of the field. Then he got up, reached back and put the Houston Astros in control of their first-round playoff series.

Not bad for a No. 3 starter.

Game 3 Breakdown
Unsung Hero
Craig Biggio. The 18-year veteran second baseman played a huge role offensively for the Astros, going 3-for-5 with three doubles and two runs scored. Biggio is now batting an even .500 (6-for-12) in the series.

The Braves' bullpen. Starter Jorge Sosa was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh, with Atlanta trailing 3-2. Chris Reitsma took over for Sosa to begin the bottom of the seventh and three relievers were used after him before the inning was finally complete, one in which the Astros pushed across four runs to essentially put the game out of reach.

Turning Point
With two outs in the bottom of the third and the game tied 2-2, Mike Lamb, in his first appearance and start of the postseason, smacked a solo homer over the right-field wall, giving the Astros a 3-2 lead.

Important Stat
.417. Morgan Ensberg's batting average for the three games in this series. Ensberg went 2-for-4 in this game, and is now 5-for-12 in the series with seven RBI.

On Deck
With the Astros holding a 2-1 lead in the series, Game 4 will take place Sunday at Minute Maid Park. The Braves will start Tim Hudson on three days' rest. Hudson suffered the loss in Game 1, allowing five runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. Brandon Backe will pitch for the Astros. He was 1-1 with a 7.30 ERA in two starts against the Braves during the regular season.

Oswalt pitched into the eighth inning, striking out seven of the next 12 batters after his awkward spill, and the Astros beat the Atlanta Braves 7-3 Saturday night to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five series.

Houston can advance to its second consecutive NL championship series with a victory at home on Sunday. Brandon Backe will pitch for the Astros against Game 1 loser Tim Hudson, coming back on three days' rest.

Mike Lamb hit a tiebreaking homer in the third for the Astros, who after seven first-round exits from the playoffs are trying to eliminate the Braves in the division series for the second year in a row.

Craig Biggio, the 39-year-old second baseman who has spent his entire career in Houston and last week agreed to a contract for 2006, hit three doubles and scored twice. Morgan Ensberg, who had five RBI during a 10-5 win in the series opener, added a pair of RBI doubles to the delight of a boisterous home crowd.

"Last year we got to really see what our crowds were all about in this building," Biggio said. "They're your 10th guy."

Oswalt had already wasted a two-run lead when he fell on the mound in the middle of his windup for an 0-2 pitch to Marcus Giles in the third.

"My back foot slipped off the back of the rubber, and once my feet gave way, I started to throw the pitch anyway, and my mind said, change real quick, don't lob one up there and let the guy hit it out," Oswalt said. "I went ahead and took that one on the chin."

After getting up and shaking his head, Oswalt threw a 96 mph fastball that Giles swung at and missed.

That was Oswalt's first strikeout, and it got him back on track after a strange sequence in the second inning when the Braves tied the game.

"He's a tough cookie," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.

Losing pitcher Jorge Sosa, a reliever-turned-starter, gave up three runs and seven hits over six innings in his first postseason appearance. After joining the Braves' rotation in mid-June, he went 7-0 in 12 road starts.

By the time Oswalt left to a loud standing ovation with one out in the eighth and Giles on first, Houston led 7-2. Andruw Jones then hit an RBI double off reliever Dan Wheeler, but that was all the Braves got. Brad Lidge closed it out in the ninth.

The teams had about 14 hours to rest for Game 4, which is Sunday at 12:09 p.m. CDT.

Atlanta has won 14 straight division titles, but hasn't made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2001. The Braves will turn to Hudson in the hopes of sending the series back to Atlanta for a deciding game Monday night.

Oswalt might have been third in the Astros' playoff rotation, but the right-hander was the opening-day starter ahead of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens in their hometown.

And it was also Oswalt on the mound last Sunday in the regular-season finale the Astros had to win to clinch the NL wild card outright. He beat the Chicago Cubs, making him the first pitcher since 2001-02 with consecutive 20-win seasons.

After needing only 12 pitches to get through the first three Atlanta hitters, and with a 2-0 lead, Oswalt endured a strange inning.

With Jones on after a leadoff single and Adam LaRoche with a 3-1 count, plate umpire Jeff Nelson signaled a balk on Oswalt's quick pitch. But, based on a seldom-used rule, the pitch was still live and ended up being ball four -- with no balk against Oswalt.

Jeff Francoeur's grounder to third started a double play that left him laid out on the ground. Ensberg's throw was off target, and Lamb was in a defensive position when he caught the ball up the first-base line. Lamb tagged out Francoeur, then shoved the runner aside with his left elbow.

Brian McCann blooped a 97 mph fastball into short left, right after swinging and missing badly at a slow curve, to drive in a run and make it 2-1.

Oswalt still thought he was out of the inning with the lead, so certain that he had thrown a third strike to Sosa that he was already hopping off the mound when Nelson called the pitch a ball. Sosa grounded the next pitch through the left side of the infield for a tying single.

McCann helped beat the Astros with a homer on Thursday night, the rookie catcher's three-run shot off Clemens in his first postseason at-bat putting the Braves ahead to stay in a 7-1 victory.

Biggio led off the first with a double and scored on Ensberg's first double. Jason Lane, after a foul ball hit so high that it struck the roof, had a sacrifice fly to put the Astros ahead 2-0.

Houston hit seven doubles, an NL division series record. Biggio's three matched the individual mark.

"As he goes, we go," manager Phil Garner said. "But somebody's got to complete the job and Ensberg has been doing that lately. If Ensberg gets a couple of doubles and nobody is on base, we don't have anything going on."

Lamb's homer to right with two outs in the third put Houston ahead to stay.

After Sosa was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh, Biggio led off the bottom half with another double and the Astros went on to score four times off four Atlanta pitchers. The Houston outburst didn't end until Brad Ausmus grounded into a disputed double play, one that brought manager Phil Garner out to argue with first-base umpire Gary Cederstrom.

Game notes

The roof at Minute Maid Park was closed, even though it was 71 degrees and a clear night when the game started. Garner said the goal is to make it loud -- and it was. ... There was a crowd of 43,759, the largest in the stadium's six seasons.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press