What better way to mark the 18th game of the season than to remember the 18-inning NLDS game four win against the Atlanta Braves in 2005. The game turned out to be a historic event as it outlasted the Astros 1986 16-inning loss to the New York Mets for the longest game in post season history clocking in at 5 hours and 50 minutes long. The game itself featured a little bit of everything from grand slams, to strong pitching performances, an unlikely homerun by Brad Ausmus, and some late inning heroics provided by Chris Burke.
Going into the game the Astros had a 2-1 series lead and were trying to keep the series from heading back to Atlanta for game five. The pitching matchup saw Brandon Backe (149.1 IP, 4.76 ERA on the season), squaring off against Atlanta’s Tim Hudson (192 IP, 3.52 ERA).
The game was uneventful through the first two innings, but that all changed in the top of the 3rd. Backe recorded two outs while also scattering two walks and a hit batter to load the bases for Adam LaRoche. With a 1-1 count LaRoche homered to right center to give Atlanta a 4-0 lead. The Braves struck again in the top of the 5th on a sacrifice fly off of the bat of Andrew Jones effectively ending Brandon Backe’s night. Backe ended up throwing 4.1 innings while giving up 5 earned runs. Little did the Astros know that his 72 pitches would be the first of 299 thrown by Astros pitching on the night. Mike Gallo relieved Backe and got the Astros out of the 5th inning without allowing any more damage to occur.
The Astros were finally able to get on the board in the bottom of the 5th off of three singles and an Orlando Palmeiro sacrifice fly to make the game 5-1. The game remained unchanged until the top of the 8th inning when then rookie catcher Brian McCann lead off the inning with a homerun to right to make it 6-1 and seemingly putting the game out of reach. However, the Astros were able to get runners at 1st and 2nd with nobody out on a Brad Ausmus walk and an Eric Bruntlett infield hit. With one out Luke Scott walked to load the bases which brought up Lance Berkman who hit a grand slam of his own off of Kyle Farnsworth to bring the Astros back within one. Down to their last out in the bottom of the 9th catcher Brad Ausmus strolled to the plate and hit a homerun to left center that just barely cleared the yellow line for a homerun to send the game into extra innings.
Both teams managed a double in the 10th but were unable to score. The Braves were able to get a runner in scoring position in both the 11th and 12th innings but were unable to produce the big blow. The bottom of the 15th got a little more interesting for the Astros when Roger Clemens entered as a pinch hitter and stayed in the game to relieve Dan Wheeler on the mound. It was the first relief appearance the Rocket had made since 1984, and the rocket would go on to provide three innings of shutout relief work. The Astros had been hitless since a Lance Berkman 10th inning double entering the bottom of the 18th. With one out Chris Burke hit the game winning homerun off of Braves rookie Joey Devine bringing the longest game in postseason history to an end.
The win avoided a game 5 in Atlanta and set the stage for a NLCS rematch against the St. Louis Cardinals. There were a total of eight different pitchers used by the Astros, and the bullpen ended up going 13.2 innings while only allowing one run. Offensively Lance Berkman, Brad Ausmus, and Chris Burke were the heroes while franchise icon Craig Biggio and third baseman Morgan Ensberg combined to go 0-13. Jeff Bagwell made a pinch hit appearance but was unable to produce. The game was truly magnificent to watch and featured several highlights from Lance Berkman’s grand slam, to Brad Ausmus’ unlikely homerun, to a near game ending shot by Luke Scott that went just foul, to Roger Clemens unbelievable 3-inning relief outing, to the game ending homerun by 25-year old Chris Burke.