Backe tosses six strong innings, homers to beat Braves

HOUSTON (AP) -- Craig Biggio got one more chance to catch up on old times.

In the next-to-last game of his 20-season career, Biggio caught two innings and had two hits, helping the Houston Astros beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2 Saturday night.

The 41-year-old Biggio primarily played catcher for his first four seasons in the majors -- he had not crouched behind the plate since switching to second base in 1992.

Biggio asked for this assignment and manager Cecil Cooper agreed to it.

"It was fun," Biggio said. "I enjoyed it a lot. It was fun just walking out to the bullpen to warm up before the game."

Brandon Backe (3-1) got the opportunity to pitch to Biggio. It was a moment that Backe will remember more than his homer, which turned out to provide the deciding run.

"It was awesome," Backe said. "There's no other words to describe what it felt like pitching to my childhood idol. It was really special. I wish it didn't have to end so soon. I'll cherish this moment for the rest of my life."

Biggio got through the innings without a glitch. Regular catcher Brad Ausmus replaced Biggio in the third inning and Biggio moved back to his normal spot at second base.

"I'm glad it went well," Biggio said. "I forgot what that side of the game was like. I was nervous but I just worried about trying to catch the ball."

Backe, who missed most of the season after Tommy John surgery, made his fifth start of the year. He allowed a run on four hits and struck out four while walking none. He felt this was his best outing and said pitching to Biggio helped make it happen.

"I was pretty pumped up because of that," Backe said. "I was so excited, I finished my normal pregame routine in the bullpen eight minutes early. All I could think about after that was just trying to throw a strike on my first pitch."

Cooper joked that the Astros should offer Biggio a contract extension.

"I think we'll re-sign him at that spot," Cooper said. "He did a nice job. I'm happy to see him do it again after all these years."

The Astros were expecting a capacity crowd for Sunday's finale. They had a number of events planned for Biggio's farewell, but were staying tightlipped about the specifics.

"He's a pretty special player," Cooper said. "I'm just tickled I got to manage a Hall of Famer, even though it wasn't for very long."

Brad Lidge pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 19th save in 27 chances.

Jeff Bennett (2-1) made his second career start since coming up from Triple-A Richmond on Sept. 19. He also went six innings, giving up three runs.

Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team was eliminated from postseason contention only Thursday, lamented that Sunday was the end of the Braves' ultimately disappointing season.

"Don't tell me about it," Cox said. "I don't like the end whether we're winning or losing, even when you get beat or win the World Series. It's the end and there's nowhere to go the next day."

Biggio doubled and Lance Berkman followed with his 34th home run for a 2-0 lead in the first inning. The Braves scored in the second when Jeff Francoeur reached on an infield single, went to third on Brandon Jones' single and scored on an infield out by Brayan Pena.

Backe, who started in the Tampa Bay organization as a position player, hit his second career homer in the fifth. Backe's first career home run came on Sept. 9, 2004, against Cincinnati, also at Minute Maid Park.

Reliever Dennis Sarfate took over for Backe in the seventh inning and Francoeur led off with a double. One out later, he went to third on Pena's single and scored on Willie Harris' sacrifice fly.

Game notes
Biggio hit his 667th double. He later singled for his 3,059th career hit. ... Biggio's last appearance at catcher came against Atlanta on Oct. 5, 1991 at Fulton County Stadium. He started 391 games there and made the All-Star team at the position once. ... Ausmus made his first career start at any position besides catcher. He handled one grounder at 2B in the first inning. ... Chipper Jones went 1-for-3 before being replaced in the bottom of the sixth. He has a .339 average with one game left as he vies for the NL batting title; Colorado's Matt Holliday is at .340.