ATLANTA (AP) – There’s more to the Houston Astros than just pitching.

Morgan Ensberg had five RBIs, Andy Pettitte overcame a couple of homers for his record-tying 14th postseason win and the Astros got started on what they hope will be another October conquest of Atlanta, beating the Braves 10-5 in Game 1 of their NL playoff series Wednesday.

“We’ve still got some pretty good bats here,” said Craig Biggio, a leftover from the Killer Bs who was in the middle of things the entire game. “We just have to manufacture things a little differently.”

The good-pitching, weak-hitting Astros – they led the National League in ERA but ranked 11th in runs – had no trouble scoring on the Braves. Atlanta passed up the chance to start the playoffs with John Smoltz, who came in as the winningest pitcher in postseason history.

Now, Smoltz will start against Roger Clemens in Game 2 on Thursday night.

“We need to win one here, that’s for sure,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “But it’s pretty easy to shake off. We’ve got Smoltzie going tomorrow.”

Pettitte moved into a tie with Smoltz for most postseason wins, improving to 14-8. The Houston left-hander pitched four-hit ball over seven innings – more than good enough the way the Astros were hitting.

Still concerned about Smoltz’s ailing shoulder, Cox tapped another 14-game winner, Tim Hudson, for the opener.

But the right-hander was roughed up for five runs in 6 2-3 innings – the most he had allowed since a June 13 loss at Texas, which preceded a stint on the disabled list.

Hudson’s control was a major problem. He walked five, tying a season high, and hit a batter with a pitch.

“I was surprised we put the runs on him,” Pettitte said. “I’m not going to lie to you. He’s tough.”

Not on this day, and Houston turned a 5-3 game into a blowout with five runs in the eighth against the shaky Braves bullpen.

Biggio, at 39, played the role of leadoff hitter to perfection. He had two hits, a sacrifice fly, a sac bunt and a walk in six trips to the plate. He scored three times.

“It’s huge,” Ensberg said. “What he brings to the table is intimidation.”

A year ago, the Astros knocked off Atlanta in the division series for the first postseason victory in franchise history. Pettitte wasn’t around for that one, sitting out after season-ending elbow surgery. He came back to have a dominant season, winning 17 games and posting the second-best ERA in the National League behind Clemens.

Ensberg tied a Houston postseason record with his five RBIs. He had a run-scoring single in the first, a two-run single in the third, another RBI single in the seventh and walked with the bases loaded in the eighth, when the Astros sent 11 batters to the plate against Chris Reitsma, John Foster and Jim Brower.

Manager Phil Garner flip-flopped his lineup to get Lance Berkman hitting ahead of Ensberg, who dropped to the cleanup spot. The Braves walked Berkman three times – once intentionally – and Ensberg made them pay.

“There’s virtually no pressure on me,” Ensberg said. “The pitcher has got to throw it over the plate. I got some good pitches to hit in those situations.”

Houston scored only 13 runs in six regular-season games against the Braves, losing five of those meetings – two by shutout. But those games came early in a season that began miserably for the Astros, who bounced back to capture the wild card.

Atlanta got homers from Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones – usually a formula for success. The Braves went 44-6 when both connected during the regular season.

But this is the postseason, which has provided plenty of misery for a franchise with 14 straight division titles but only one World Series championship during that amazing run.

The Braves went down in the opening round the last three years, each time starting with a Game 1 loss at Turner Field. Now, they’re in the hole again.

Atlanta tried to change its playoff fortunes by ditching the normal white home jersey in favor of a red top, which debuted this season and had been used only for Sunday home games.

It didn’t work.

Hudson got off to a rough start. Biggio singled up the middle on the second pitch of the game, moved to second on a bunt and came home on Ensberg’s single to center.

Chipper Jones tied it in the bottom half on an opposite-field homer to right, but the Astros reclaimed the lead with two runs in the third. Once again, Biggio got things started – this time with a double – and Ensberg finished up with a two-run single to left.

Pitching coach Leo Mazzone made a trip to the mound and the Braves got their bullpen up, but Hudson escaped further damage by getting Adam Everett to ground out with the bases loaded.

Biggio was at it again in the fourth. Brad Ausmus led off with a double and was bunted to third before the leadoff hitter managed a sacrifice fly to medium center. Andruw Jones had a shot at the slow-running Ausmus, but the throw home sailed way over the head of catcher Johnny Estrada, giving the Astros a 4-1 lead.

Andruw Jones, who ended the season in a 6-of-51 slump, brought the Braves to 4-3 with a two-run homer in the fourth.

Hudson was actually fortunate that Houston didn’t build a bigger lead. He escaped the first-inning jam with a double play, and surprise starter Brian Jordan made a brilliant play in left field in the second to deny Everett a two-run homer.

Jordan, who played only 76 games and was hobbled much of the season by a sore knee, drifted back to the warning track, timed his leap perfectly and caught the ball before his glove slammed into the yellow line atop the wall.

At the end of the inning, Andruw Jones lingered on the field to pat Jordan on the back. The 38-year-old outfielder was mobbed by the rest of his teammates when he got to the dugout.

Notes: Ensberg tied the Houston postseason record of five RBIs set by Carlos Beltran in Game 5 of last year’s playoff victory over the Braves. … The Astros set a division series record with four sacrifice bunts. … The crowd of 40,590 was about 10,000 short of a sellout. … Pettitte started Game 1 of the playoffs for the first time in his 30 postseason appearances.

AP-ES-10-05-05 2031EDT


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