HOUSTON (AP) -- A couple of new Killer Bs have the Houston Astros one win away from ending 43 seasons of playoff failure.
Carlos Beltran hit a two-run homer and Brandon Backe pitched six solid innings in his postseason debut to lead the Astros to their 19th straight home win, 8-5 over Atlanta on Saturday for a 2-1 lead in their NL series.
Hoping to clinch the Astros' first playoff series win in club history, Roger Clemens will pitch on three days' rest for the first time this season Sunday. The Rocket, winner of his last four postseason decisions, will oppose the Braves' Russ Ortiz in the best-of-five matchup.
Houston has a humiliating history of October failure, having lost seven series overall and falling to Atlanta in the first round in 1997, 1999 and 2001. But with help from new guys like Beltran and Backe, and timely contributions from Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman, the wild-card Astros are close to advancing.
Even after the Braves pulled off an improbable rally in Game 2 for a 4-2 victory in 11 innings, the Astros were feeling good for having earned a split at Turner Field and stealing homefield advantage.
The Braves got off to a bad start at Minute Maid Park. Starter John Thomson threw only four pitches before leaving after reaggravating a muscle pull in his side that forced him out of the final game of the regular season.
Thomson was replaced by Paul Byrd, who took the loss after giving up four runs on four hits in 4 1-3 innings.
The return home did wonders for the Astros, who didn't have a hit over the final 5 1-3 innings and finished with only four in Game 2 on Thurdsay.
Beltran went 2-for-5 after going hitless in five at-bats in Game 2, Morgan Ensberg had three RBIs and Berkman, Jeff Kent and Mike Lamb each drove in a run.
Brad Lidge got the final three outs for the save. He recovered nicely from a blown save in Game 2, when he pitched a season-high 2 2-3 innings.
Andruw Jones hit a three-run homer in the eighth for the Braves, and Johnny Estrada also connected.
Needless to say, Backe had a much better afternoon than Thomson.
A reliever for the Astros until moving into the rotation in August, Backe showed the same uncommon poise he displayed when he stepped in for an ailing Clemens for Houston's playoff-clinching win in the regular-season finale.
Backe worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the second, striking out Byrd with a 93-mph fastball to end the inning. Backe also shook off Estrada's homer and Jones' RBI double in the fourth, retiring the final seven batters he faced.
His final numbers were solid: two runs, five hits, five strikeouts and two walks.
The Astros also took off some of the pressure on Backe, pitching just 50 miles north of his hometown of Galveston, Texas, by jumping out to an early lead.
Biggio led off the third with a single and Beltran followed with the second home run of his short postseason career. His two-run shot landed in the mitt of a young fan, just over the outstretched glove of right fielder J.D. Drew.
Kent's RBI double in the fifth bounced off the scoreboard in left field, allowing Berkman time to score from first base. Ensberg singled in Kent on the next at-bat to put the Astros ahead 4-2.
Dodgers 4, Cardinals 0
LOS ANGELES -- Never has ''Lima Time'' meant so much or been this good.
Jose Lima pitched a five-hitter Saturday night and the Los Angeles Dodgers staved off elimination in their first-round series by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0.
Steve Finley hit a two-run double and Shawn Green hit two solo homers as the Dodgers won their first postseason game since the 1988 World Series.
Lima, an animated 32-year-old right-hander who has struggled for much of the last five years, followed two miserable outings by Los Angeles starters with his first complete game since 2001.
''It doesn't get any better than this right here,'' Lima said. ''I knew I was having a great game, but I didn't want to be too excited and get away from my game. I kept telling myself every batter, 'Jose, if you get this guy out, you will win the game.'''
Working against the team that led the NL in batting with a .278 average and runs scored with 855, Lima pitched his second career shutout, striking out four and walking one. Larry Walker, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, the Cardinals' 2-3-4 hitters, went a combined 0-for-12. Jim Edmonds, who bats fifth, had two hits, as did leadoff hitter Tony Womack.
''I tried to keep at least one of those guys off base,'' Lima said of the Cardinals' heavy hitters. ''I tried to stay away from big innings.''
Lima pumped his fist, shouted and pointed at teammates in celebration and practically danced off the field after setting the Cardinals down inning after inning. Before his warmup throws in the first inning, he used his finger to draw on the back of the mound the initials of his wife, son, mother and late grandmother, who died 2 1/2 months ago.
''He's always been like that,'' Cardinals outfielder Reggie Sanders said. ''One thing, on our part, you can't get too hyped up or too caught up on that. Lima has always been Lima. He tries to get you caught up in his world. He did tonight.''
After he retired the Cardinals in the eighth, the crowd of 55,992 -- largest at Dodger Stadium since Game 2 of the 1988 World Series -- chanted, ''Lima! Lima! Lima!'' He came out of the dugout to take a curtain call.
''I don't know that you can do it much better,'' Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. ''That's not bad for someone who came to spring training not guaranteed a job.''
Lima signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers last winter. He went 21-10 with the Houston Astros in 1999, but was 7-16 the following year. He pitched in the independent league in 2003 before joining the Kansas City Royals in June.
Tracy said had the Cardinals gotten a runner on base in the ninth, he would have gone to closer Eric Gagne. It didn't happen, as Lima retired Pujols and Rolen on fly balls and Edmonds on a popup.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Lima not too many of Lima's 109 pitches went down the middle.
''We had a lot of trouble getting to the top of the ball, made a lot of outs in the air,'' La Russa said. ''He did a very good job.''
Odalis Perez, rocked for six runs in 2 2-3 innings in Tuesday's opener, starts Sunday night for the Dodgers against Jeff Suppan. If the Dodgers win, a fifth and deciding game will be played Monday night in St. Louis. No NL team has won the division series after falling behind 0-2 since the expanded playoffs began in 1995.
Los Angeles had lost eight postseason games in a row since beating Oakland in the 1988 World Series. The Dodgers were swept 3-0 by Cincinnati in 1995 and by Atlanta the following year, then didn't get back to the playoffs until this year, when they twice lost 8-3 in St. Louis.
Lima, 9-1 with a 3.08 ERA at Dodger Stadium this season, faced more than four batters in an inning only once -- when the Cardinals put two on with two outs in the fifth. Losing pitcher Matt Morris grounded into a forceout to end the threat.
Green hit solo homers off Morris in the fourth and sixth to give Los Angeles a 4-0 lead, with both sending the crowd into a frenzy.
The Dodgers, unable to get the clutch hit in the first two games, got one in the third when Finley hit a two-out, two-run double. It's his only hit in 12 at-bats this series.
Los Angeles got a big break earlier in the inning. Alex Cora was hit by a pitch and went to third on Brent Mayne's single. It appeared Lima's bunt bounced up and hit his bat as he left the batter's box, meaning it should have been ruled a foul ball or he should have been called out. Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny threw to second, but Mayne was safe, leaving the bases loaded.
''They went and discussed it and they didn't see it,'' La Russa said of the umpiring crew. ''You can't call it if you don't see it.''
Morris retired the next two batters before Finley came through, slicing a broken-bat double inside third. It's his only hit in 12 at-bats in the series.
Green opened the fourth by hitting a 2-0 pitch over the left-center wall and hit the first pitch from Morris over the right field fence with two outs in the sixth.
Morris, pitching for the second time since Sept. 20, gave up four runs and six hits seven innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter.
Notes: When Green hit a one-out single in the second, it snapped a string of 18 straight Los Angeles batters retired by Morris, who set down the final 14 in a two-hit, 3-0 victory over the Dodgers on Sept. 3. ... Green is the first Los Angeles player to homer in consecutive postseason games since Kirk Gibson accomplished the feat in the fourth and fifth games of the 1988 NL championship series. ... Matheny singled in the fifth to extend his postseason hitting streak to 12 games -- the longest active postseason hitting streak. ... Cora was hit by pitches 18 times this season -- the most by a Dodgers player since they moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
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