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Braves drop opener to Astros

Hudson struggles as Braves drop Game 1

ATLANTA -- Back in the unenviable spot that they've been in each of the previous three postseasons, the Braves know they must forget about everything in the past in order to prevent enduring a fourth consecutive early exit from the playoffs.

With Tim Hudson encountering early control problems and Andy Pettitte benefiting from Morgan Ensberg's five-RBI performance in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Turner Field on Wednesday, the Braves found themselves on the wrong end of a 10-5 decision to the Houston Astros and once again in the role of chaser.

"We can't carry this game that we lost today into tomorrow's game," Andruw Jones said. "We just have to put it behind us."

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Assuming Atlanta is able to quickly erase the memories of this loss, which didn't become lopsided until Houston's five-run eighth, its thoughts quickly turn toward Roger Clemens, who will provide the challenge in Game 2. Fortunately for the Braves, they're countering with John Smoltz, who helped them go 14-2 in the 16 starts he made following one of their losses this year.

As Chipper Jones sees it, Thursday night's Game 2 is "Huge. Monumental. There's not enough emphasis you can put on it."

History rudely repeated itself by delivering the Braves their fourth consecutive opening-game loss in the Division Series. But if it holds true to form, they'll battle back with a win in the second game, as they have each of the three previous seasons.

"It's one game, as lopsided as the game was today," Chipper said. "We've got Smoltzie going tomorrow, and we'll do all we can to even the series up tomorrow and head into Houston with a split."

Since Division Series play began, the Braves have advanced to the NL Championship Series just once after dropping their first game. That occurred in 1999, when they battled back to take the next three games against the Astros.

The last time the Braves won the first game of the Divison Series was 2001, when they swept the Astros and made their most recent trip to the NLCS.

"We scored five runs today, we should have won the game," said Hudson, who allowed five earned runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. "I just didn't hold up my end of the bargain."

Hudson was making his first postseason start since 2003 and it appeared the anxiety hampered him. He issued four walks and hit a batter in the first three innings. By time he exited after allowing a seventh-inning RBI single to Ensberg, he'd thrown just 56 of his 99 pitches for strikes.

"I was just rushing," Hudson said. "The ball was up. It's just frustrating. I know I'm a lot better than that. I need to make adjustments a lot quicker than that."

If Hudson is fortunate enough to get another start in this series, he'll certainly adjust his approach toward Ensberg, who hit .368 against the Braves in last year's postseason. The veteran third baseman got things started with a first-inning RBI single and then followed walks to Willy Tavares and Lance Berkman with a two-run third-inning single.

"[Hudson] was just too fired up, I think," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He was really wanting to pitch a shutout tonight, I think. He just got the ball out of the strike zone. Too many balls."

With Pettitte serving as the opposition, there was a need for Hudson to aspire for near perfection. Houston's veteran left-hander, who now shares the record for most postseason wins (14) with Smoltz, held true to form and allowed the Braves just three earned runs and four hits in seven innings.

The only damage the Braves produced off Pettitte came with Chipper Jones' first-inning solo shot and Andruw Jones' two-run fourth-inning homer. Andruw's home run, just his second since he hit his 50th on Sept. 14, pulled the Braves within one run at 4-3.

Hudson, who was perfect in the fifth and sixth innings, ran into more trouble after allowing Pettitte a leadoff double in the seventh. With two outs and the Houston hurler at third base, the choice was made to intentionally walk Lance Berkman. Ensberg responded by following with an RBI single through the left side of the infield.

"[I] just threw a cutter that was middle-middle," said Hudson, who'd allowed just one run in the only 16 previous innings he'd completed against the Astros. "It was something I was battling with. He got a pitch to hit, hit it and made us pay for it."

All hopes of the Braves making a comeback against an Astros team they defeated five times in six tries during the regular season died during Houston's five-run eighth inning. Much of the damage came at the expense of Chris Reitsma, who was charged with four earned runs and retired just one of the five batters he faced.

"You really know that if you score four or five runs against the caliber of this ballclub, that's pretty much as good as you're going to do," Chipper said. "For it to get out of hand and happen the way that it did, it's frustrating. But what can you do. We're going to start the game 0-0 again tomorrow, and we've got another chance."

The Braves' focus remains on changing the fate they've encountered each of the previous three years after dropping the first game of the Division Series. In order to do so, they must forget about what happened last year or in this case, on Wednesday night.

"Whatever we did last year is in the past," Andruw said. "Whatever we did against these guys in the regular season is in the past. We wanted to go out there and take the first game, but it didn't happen. We just have to put it behind us and look forward to tomorrow."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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