Houston's perfect game: 18 innings of glory against the Braves

Scott A. Miller

There may be better pitching performances in Houston's franchise history, but that 18 inning marathon may be the most perfect game the Astros have ever played.

MLB 2K13 proudly announces the return of the Perfect Game Challenge. Pitch a perfect game for your favorite team and you could win some serious money, including a top prize of $250,000. Go to facebook.com/mlb2k for details.

No Houston Astros pitcher has ever thrown a perfect game.

If you've followed this team, that's not news to you. There have been no-hitters in team history, including that crazy six-pitcher one in Yankee Stadium or Mike Scottt's pennant-clinching one in 1986. But, no Houston pitcher has managed to land on that most auspicious of lists, the perfect gamers.

So, when I was asked to come up with a game for MLB 2K13, I first thought of Scotty. His was great, since it involved a no-hitter and the best of circumstances, back when winning a division title meant you were one step away from the World Series. There was also Darryl Kile's no-hitter, which was more current and tied into both his leaving the team and his tragic end.

More and more, though, the game that popped into my mind was a playoff game against the Braves. It didn't feature a statistical oddity of a pitching performance. There were plenty of hits on either side. But, that glorious 18-inning game against the Braves in the 2005 National League Division Series was about as perfect a game as Houston fans could hope for.

Let's run through the highlights:

After splitting two games in Atlanta, Houston's Roy Oswalt threw seven strong innings to set up a series-clincher in Game 4. Houston had banished its Braves bugaboo the year before by winning its first-ever playoff series at Turner Field. Still, the team hadn't won one at home, and that meant something.

Tim Hudson was opposing Brandon Backe in this one. The Galveston native Backe was never a great pitcher, but he sure shone brightest in the playoffs. He had pitched a gem of a game at Minute Maid Park a year earlier in a game that was capped by Jeff Kent's home run to win it.

Backe was less brilliant in this one. The right-hander gave up five hits and five runs in less than five innings of work. That helped the Braves build a 5-0 lead by the fifth inning and things started to look like the Astros might not clinch at home after all.

Andruw Jones drove in Atlanta's fifth run on a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Chipper Jones. Houston pitchers only gave up one more run for the next 13 innings and that was a solo home run by Brian McCann off Wandy Rodriguez.

At this point, down 6-1 and with Tim Hudson cruising into the bottom of the eighth, things appeared bleak. That's when the first great moment in this game happened. Lance Berkman took a 2-1 pitch from Kyle Farnsworth and deposited it over the fence for a grand slam, scoring Eric Bruntlett, Craig Biggio and Luke Scott.

That brought Houston within a run, but the Braves had their closer coming in for the ninth and the Astros were down a run. What's more, Houston's first two batters in the ninth inning went down in flames, leaving light-hitting catcher Brad Ausmus up against flame-throwing Farnsworth with the game on the line. On a 2-0 pitch, Ausmus hit a ball deep to left center that hit just to the right of the home run line, tying the game and giving Houston new life.

From there, the game switched from a sprint to catch up into a marathon to survive. Reliever after reliever came in for Houston and threw multiple innings. The Braves kept sending guys out there, too, and kept putting up zeroes. Houston had chances to score, but couldn't capitalize on them.

For instance, in the bottom of the 10th, Lance Berkman hit a double to center field. Astros manager went for broke, pinch running for the slow Berkman with youngster Chris Burke. Atlanta walked Morgan Ensberg to bring up the pitcher's spot, and Garner went with Jeff Bagwell as his pinch hitter. Bagwell, ailing from his debilitating shoulder injury that would end his career, gamely tried to make a difference, but only managed a fly ball to left for the inning's third out. Now, Houston went forward without its best hitter in the lineup.

Houston didn't get another base runner until the bottom of the 13th, when catcher Raul Chavez walked. The Astros didn't get another runner in scoring position until the bottom of the 15th, when Craig Biggio walked and was bunted over to second by Roger Clemens.

Wait, did I just say Roger Clemens?

Rocket's addition to the game is what might push this one over the top as far as perfect Astros games. With no one left in the bullpen and Dan Wheeler having been stretched out for three innings, Clemens trotted down to the bullpen and entered the game in relief, only the third time in his career that he'd pitched out of the bullpen. Watching the game was already a tense experience, but when Clemens strolled out to the mound, the atmosphere became electric.

Typically, Clemens shut down the Braves for three innings of stellar work, even working in two at-bats. He struck out four and gave up one hit while throwing 44 pitches.

The Braves had walked Chris Burke with Biggio on second in the bottom of the 15th, but Jim Brower induced a ground ball double play out of Morgan Ensberg to end the inning. Houston didn't have a runner reach base for seven more trips to the plate, as Atlanta's relievers mowed down Houston's lineup.

In the bottom of the 18th, Clemens led off with a strikeout. Next up was Burke, who had entered the game for Berkman, who stood to be the biggest hero of the night to that point.

All that changed with one swing of the bat:

Burke forever etched his name into Houston's records with that home run into the Crawford Boxes. He capped a memorable game that sent his team to the National League Championship Series for a second straight year.

In short, he made it perfect.

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