It was in the 11th inning of Sunday's game, Houston Manager Phil Garner said, that he began to recall the 1986 playoff game between the Astros and the New York Mets that was, at that time, the longest postseason game in major league history. The Mets won Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series, 7-6, in 16 innings. Garner was the starting third baseman for the Astros in that game.

"This is more exhausting," Garner said after his team beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-6, in a record 18 innings. "I got taken out in the eighth inning of that one.

"I'm exhausted. That game is as gut-wrenching as anything I've been a part of."

Jerry Izenberg wrote a book on that 1986 game called "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

"I think there's going to be a sequel on it; this is going to be the greatest game ever played," Garner said.

Left fielder Lance Berkman, who put the Astros within one run of the Braves with a grand slam in the eighth inning and came out for a pinch runner after doubling in the 10th inning, had the last Astros hit before Chris Burke's game-winning home run in the 18th inning. It was a span of 26 batters.

"We kept counting over there," Garner said. "I was asking whether we would get another hit."

Berkman said he was anxious as a spectator for the final eight innings.

"I almost felt guilty," he said. "The physical toll is tremendous. I'm exhausted and I only played nine innings."

Berkman, a part-time first baseman, gave a harsh review of the play at first base by catchers Brad Ausmus and Raul Chavez, both forced to play the position with no one else available.

"It was a disservice to the position," he joked.

St. Louis to Start With Carpenter

With the NLCS set to start Wednesday in St. Louis, and the Cardinals completing a sweep of the Padres on Saturday night, Manager Tony La Russa has some time to figure out his pitching rotation, decisions he said Saturday night would depend on the health of lefty Mark Mulder. The only certainty: Chris Carpenter will start Game 1.

Mulder took a line drive off his left biceps during his start in Game 2, and though he remained in the game for 62/3 innings, the area tightened significantly the following day. La Russa said prior to Game 3 that Mulder would not have been available had the NLDS been extended to a fifth game.

Carpenter, Mulder and Matt Morris all started and won against the Padres, and La Russa has his fourth and fifth starters, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan, available as well.

Arangure reported from Houston, Svrluga from San Diego.

Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa, left, says his rotation hinges on the health of Mark Mulder, who was hit by a line drive in Game 2.