Top Astros-Braves playoff moments
The Braves and Astros are set to meet in the World Series for the first time, beginning with Game 1 on Tuesday night in Houston.
But this is not the teams’ first postseason clash. In fact, for a short time in a previous era, the two became frequent foes in October.
From 1997-2005, Atlanta and Houston met in the National League Division Series five times in a nine-year span. This was back before the Astros moved from the NL Central to their current home in the American League West. It coincided with the Braves’ spectacular run of 14 consecutive division titles (excluding the 1994 strike year), powered by their legendary starting rotation, as well as the Astros’ “Killer B’s” era, when Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and company led Houston to six postseason runs.
The first three series (1997, 1999, 2001) went Atlanta’s way, as the Braves dominated by winning nine of 10 games. The Astros got revenge by taking the final two series (2004, 2005). Along the way, there were plenty of memorable moments, so as these teams get ready to meet again on the biggest stage, here is a look back at the top eight.
1) Chris Burke, postseason hero
2005 NLDS Game 4
One of the beautiful things about the postseason is that it’s not always the biggest stars who author those magical moments that stand the test of time. In this case, it was Burke, a 25-year-old rookie infielder/outfielder who would go on to hit just 23 Major League home runs over six seasons. With the Astros trying to clinch the series in Game 4 in Houston, Burke came off the bench to pinch-run for Lance Berkman in the bottom of the 10th inning but didn’t score. Then the game just kept going and going … and going. Burke wound up getting three plate appearances as the Astros and Braves set a record for the longest postseason game (18 innings) that has since been equaled. Finally, with one out in the bottom of the 18th, Burke drilled a line drive into the Crawford Boxes, becoming the seventh player to record a series-clinching walk-off homer.
2) Weiss’ acrobatics save the day
1999 NLDS Game 3
This series was tied at a game apiece, and Game 3 at the Astrodome went into extras before Houston loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th. Left-hander John Rocker entered and got Carl Everett to hit into a force play at home before Tony Eusebio scalded a grounder up the middle. It looked like the game would be over, but with the infield pulled in, Braves shortstop Walt Weiss somehow snared it with a dive to his left, scrambled to his knees and fired a lunging throw home, where catcher Eddie Perez barely kept his foot on the plate. Thanks to Weiss’ gem, Rocker escaped the jam, and Brian Jordan’s two-run double in the 12th sent Atlanta to victory. The Braves finished off the series a day later.
3) Houston finally lifts off
2004 NLDS Game 5
It feels distant now, given the Astros’ recent postseason success, but for a long time, October was a haunted month in Houston -- and not because of Halloween. Entering 2004, the Astros were 8-22 in postseason games, 0-7 in elimination games and 0-5 in potential series clinchers (all in 1980-81). In other words, the franchise had never won a playoff series, and now its two longtime cornerstones, Bagwell and Biggio, were 36 and 38 years old, respectively. Would it ever happen? Naturally, Houston would have to get past its top tormentor, Atlanta. The Astros had a shot to clinch in Game 4 at Minute Maid Park, leading 5-2 after five innings, but the Braves rallied to win. Heartbreak loomed, again. But this time was different, as Houston got two homers from Carlos Beltran -- who was authoring an incredible October hot streak -- and pulled away late to win, 12-3. When Dan Wheeler retired Chipper Jones to end it in the ninth, there was joy and relief.
4) Chipper wins star-studded duel
2001 NLDS Game 1
Needless to say, Jones did not struggle against many pitchers in his Hall of Fame career. Billy Wagner was an exception. The flamethrowing left-hander -- later Jones’ teammate with the 2010 Braves -- held the sweet-swinging switch-hitter to 3-for-21 (.143) with no extra-base hits and 12 strikeouts in the regular season. And entering this series, it was 0-for-8 with six K’s. So it’s not difficult to see why Astros manager Larry Dierker called upon Wagner to face Jones with Game 1 tied 3-3 in the top of the eighth, two runners on base and one out. But it didn’t work out. Jones ambushed a first-pitch fastball and ripped it into the Crawford Boxes to put Atlanta ahead, 6-3. That sparked a three-game sweep -- the Braves’ third NLDS triumph over the Astros in five years.
5) Millwood wins one, saves another
1999 NLDS Game 2
There have only been two no-hitters in postseason history. There also have been six one-hit performances, and one of those came in this game, courtesy of Braves right-hander Kevin Millwood, who at age 24 would go on to finish third in that year’s NL Cy Young Award voting. With Atlanta down 1-0 in the series, Millwood gave up a game-tying solo homer to Ken Caminiti with one out in the second inning, but that was it. He mowed down 23 of the last 24 batters he faced, with the only runner reaching on an error. The Braves won, 5-1, but Millwood’s series was not over. Just two days later, after Weiss' defensive heroics and Jordan's clutch hit, Millwood threw a perfect 12th inning to save Game 3.
6) Furcal says good night
2004 NLDS Game 2
The Astros won Game 1 of this series in Atlanta, putting the Braves’ backs against the wall early. They took an early 2-0 lead in Game 2, while Roy Oswalt put up zeros. The Braves finally got on the board on Rafael Furcal’s RBI single in the seventh, and Adam LaRoche tied it with a double in the eighth, while John Smoltz held the fort with three scoreless innings out of the bullpen. With two outs and a runner on in the 11th, Furcal dropped his bat on a down-and-in pitch from Dan Miceli and drove it over the right-field wall for what remains the only postseason walk-off homer in Atlanta Braves history. (Eddie Mathews hit one in 1957 for the Milwaukee Braves).
7) ‘Stros storm back
2005 NLDS Game 4
Let’s backtrack to the Burke game, because Burke never gets to etch his name in postseason lore if the game never reaches extra innings in the first place. It certainly didn’t seem to be headed that way when Atlanta carried a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth. But the Astros started a rally against Tim Hudson and continued it against Kyle Farnsworth, with Berkman getting Houston back into the game with an opposite-field grand slam into the Crawford Boxes. Still, the Astros trailed by a run with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the ninth, when 36-year-old catcher Brad Ausmus, more known for his defense, stepped to the plate. Ausmus, who had hit three regular-season homers in 387 at-bats, jumped on a Farnsworth fastball to tie the game.
8) Introducing Brian McCann
2005 NLDS Game 2
The postseason stage can be daunting, even for a veteran. So imagine what was going through the mind of 21-year-old catcher Brian McCann when he made his postseason debut in this one. McCann was three years removed from finishing high school in Duluth, Ga., and here he was catching Smoltz, a future Hall of Famer, who at 38 years old had been a Braves postseason hero for 14 years already. And then there was the other pitcher. Facing McCann in his first postseason plate appearance was 43-year-old Roger Clemens, still a force to be reckoned with near the end of a decorated and dominant career. Not a problem. McCann pummeled a go-ahead, three-run homer, earning a curtain call from the Turner Field crowd and keying a 7-1 win. McCann went on to become a seven-time All-Star in Atlanta.