Braves ousted from NLDS

Braves bounced in 18-inning thriller

HOUSTON -- Other than Kyle Farnsworth, the Braves have spent much of the past two months without a reliable reliever. Yet when they needed him most, Farnsworth was dealt the same cruel fate that felled Atlanta's bullpen for most of this season.

As fate would have it, it was Farnsworth's rare encounter with disappointment combined with a multitude of squandered scoring opportunities that left a weary Braves bunch shocked and saddened that their postseason run ended in the cruelest of ways.

Had the Braves simply lost Sunday afternoon's game against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, they would have been able to handle it the same way they have each of their previous abbreviated runs through the postseason.

But to see the dependable Farnsworth squander a five-run eighth-inning lead and have the unlikely Chris Burke end a five-hour, 50-minute marathon with an 18th-inning walk-off homer against Joey Devine was devastating even for John Smoltz, who has experienced plenty of October disappointment with the Braves over the past 15 years.

"This is by far, with all that has gone into this year, the worst way you could lose a baseball game," said a dejected Smoltz as he stood in a somber Braves clubhouse shortly after Burke's homer had delivered the Astros a dramatic 7-6 victory in the longest postseason game ever played.

With their traumatic loss, the Braves saw their postseason run ended with a Division Series ouster for the fourth straight year. This marks the second consecutive year they've been ousted by the Astros.

"I've had my share of heartbreakers, but this one ranks at the top of the heap," Chipper Jones said. "I was really confident coming into this series. I thought we'd score some runs, and we did. We just got bit in the [eighth and ninth] inning again. It's kind of the way things have gone for us this year."

Farnsworth, who was first victimized by a Lance Berkman eighth-inning grand slam, needed just one more out to send the series back to Atlanta for a decisive fifth game on Monday night. But like Burke, who hit just five homers in 318 at-bats this year, Ausmus prevented that by being an unlikely hero.

Ausmus, who hit just three home runs this season, drilled Farnsworth's 2-0 fastball just over the yellow line where the wall becomes padded in left-center field. The two-out ninth-inning blast came on the 36th pitch delivered by the man the Braves confidently sent to the mound to secure Tim Hudson's strong seven-inning effort.

"Did I think they were going to score five runs off Farnsworth? Never in a million years," Jones said. "If I was a betting man, I would have bet a lot of money on that.

"That's the last thing I expected. That was really the point of the game where you look into the dugout and you're just like, 'Somebody pinch me, what just happened?'"

After Farnsworth exited, the much maligned other members of the Braves bullpen shone bright. Chris Reitsma, John Thomson and Jim Brower limited the Astros to just one hit over the next seven innings. Devine, who just four months ago was pitching at North Carolina State, retired the first four batters he faced before surrendering the game-winner to Burke.

"Unbelievable. Every single guy on both clubs played their hearts out," said Devine, the club's top selection in June's draft. "That's what is so tough about it that we didn't come back with a win."

While the Braves' bullpen was good during the extra frames, the Astros' bullpen -- which saw Roger Clemens, on two days' rest, finish things with three scoreless innings -- matched them with every punch. Their stubbornness forced Atlanta to face the fact that it stranded 18 runners in the losing effort.

"We had our opportunities," Jones said. "We've got nobody to blame but ourselves. It's just heartbreaking. It really is. We're going home on a downer."

While Farnsworth might have come up short in the final game, Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles and Jones were disappointments most of the series. Combined, the top three hitters in the Atlanta lineup recorded just 10 hits in 57 at-bats. During the final two games, they went 4-for-33. Andruw Jones, who hit .471, and Adam LaRoche were Atlanta's only consistent offensive threats throughout the Series.

In the books: NLDS Game 4
Notable numbers from Game 4 of the NLDS between Atlanta and Houston. -- AP
Milestone
Sunday
Previous record
Longest game (innings)
18
16, Mets-Astros, '86 NLCS
Longest game (time)
5:50
5:49, Yankees-Red Sox, '04 ALCS
Players used, one team
23 (tie), Houston
23, Mets-Braves, '99 ALCS; 23, Twins-Braves, '91 WS
Players used
42 *
Pitches thrown
553 +
Grand slams
2 #
First postseason game to have two
* Houston 23, Atlanta 19; + Houston 300, Atlanta 253; # Adam LaRoche, Lance Berkman

Farnsworth entered after Hudson began the eighth by issuing a walk and surrendering an infield single that would have been an out if it had been ruled Marcus Giles had his foot on second base. Immediately he induced a grounder to Chipper Jones, who stepped on third base and fired just wide of first base, preventing Julio Franco to stay on the base and register the double play.

After issuing a walk to Luke Scott, Farnsworth fell victim to Berkman's opposite-field grand slam that just cleared the short left-field wall. The two homers he surrendered cleared the walls by just a few combined feet.

"It was supposed to be a fastball away," Farnsworth said. "Anywhere else, it probably would have been a flyout or a double off the wall. It's one of those things you can't worry about. That guy gets paid to hit the ball and I get paid to throw the ball. He just won that time."

With the lead squandered, Hudson wasn't rewarded for his fine effort. The veteran right-hander allowed just three earned runs and six hits in seven innings. Backed by Adam LaRoche's fourth-inning grand slam and Brian McCann's eighth-inning solo homer, he exited with reason to be confident the lead would be safe.

"I'm obviously disappointed in the loss," Hudson said. "But I'm really proud of all these guys in here. We didn't leave anything in the locker room."

Instead, they left a memorable season behind with barely anything left in their tanks.

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