Astros 10, Braves 5
He scrubbed and scrubbed his team's many cleats, hoping to give them some luster, but it's doubtful that Drayton McLane could make his Houston Astros look any better than they did on Wednesday. A tall man with an even bigger personality, the Astros owner -- dressed in slacks and a dress shirt -- began cleaning shoes in the visitor's clubhouse after Houston's 10-5 win against the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
"We need some more shoes," said McLane, who scrubbed one shoe after another as the clubhouse attendants laughed and television cameras looked on. "Not only do I have to clean the mud, but I have to polish them. I wonder if [No.] 17 [Lance Berkman] is going to give us a tip. I'm working here. Want to see my technique?"
To win Game 1, the Astros dusted off Andy Pettitte, who because of an elbow injury had not made a postseason start since 2003, and unveiled a polished third baseman, Morgan Ensberg, who after struggling in 2004 was named the team's most valuable player this season by members of the Houston media.
"He went through many struggles last year," Houston shortstop Adam Everett said of Ensberg, who led the team with 36 home runs this year. "There no doubt he's the MVP of this team. He might get some votes for MVP of the league. He's been huge."
Ensberg had three hits, a walk and five RBI to spark an offense that had been deemed the soft spot of this Houston team. But the Astros were opportunistic against Atlanta starter Tim Hudson, who has just one win in seven postseason starts.
"Obviously the performance wasn't too good," said Hudson, who allowed five runs. "Just took me a little while to make the adjustments the first few innings. You know, I was just overthrowing, leaving the rubber a little too quick."
Houston had 10 runs but just three extra-base hits, all doubles. The Astros walked nine times. Ensberg had run-scoring singles in the first, third and seventh and then walked with the bases loaded in the eighth.
"When you feel you're going to put runs on the board it helps," said Pettitte, who recorded a record-tying 14th postseason victory. "Tonight offensively was textbook. It was just a real good game for us."
Perhaps Ensberg's most important RBI came in the seventh with the Astros clinging to a 4-3 lead. With men on second and third, Braves Manager Bobby Cox decided to intentionally walk Lance Berkman to get to Ensberg, who had three RBI at that point.
"I still consider Berkman one of the top guys on their team and in the league, especially hitting left-handed," Cox said. "Ensberg hadn't hurt us much [during the season]. We made some bad pitches."
Ensberg singled to left field and Astros were on their way to a rout. The Astros scored five runs in the eighth to put the game away.
"It seems as though the tone has turned somewhat personal and it's not," Ensberg said of the intentional walk in the seventh. "They're not trying to get to me per se. I think really what was going on there was they're trying to get a righty-on-righty matchup."
The consensus before this series began was that Houston would win with starting pitching. They had that as well on Wednesday. Pettitte pitched seven innings, allowing just three runs, to record his first postseason win since Game 2 of the 2003 World Series as a member of the New York Yankees. Though Houston advanced to the National League Championship Series last season, Pettitte's first with the team, he was forced to watch from the bench after undergoing elbow surgery.
"I'm thankful I'm here," Pettitte said. "I'm thankful I can pitch in these games. It's fun for me to be able to pitch in this situation with the pressure of the postseason. I've had an opportunity to do it an awful lot in my career, and I'm just very thankful I've got an opportunity to do it again with this organization."
It was Pettitte who scored the run on Ensberg's single in the seventh. The pitcher had laced a double over the head of left fielder Brian Jordan to start the rally. Pettitte galloped around first base like an injured horse, one big awkward stride after the other. He got to second base and was clearly winded.
"I know I've done it before, you know," Pettitte said. "I know it's shocking. It shocked me, I can promise you that. I mean I'm just terrible. I hit so bad I was like, 'I need a miracle at the plate.' I told [Craig] Biggio, too, and Biggio said, 'You got to believe.' "
Even at the plate, Pettitte looked as good as a pair of freshly polished shoes.