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ASTROS 12, BRAVES 3

Astros climb to new heights

Playoff series win a first for franchise

ATLANTA -- It took 43 years, but the Houston Astros are finally postseason winners.

Carlos Beltran hit two more homers and drove in five runs, while original Killer B's Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell chipped in during a five-run seventh inning that carried the Astros to a 12-3 rout of the Atlanta Braves last night in Game 5 of their first-round NL playoff series.

The Astros snapped an 0-for-7 record of futility in the playoffs, beating their longtime nemesis. The Braves eliminated Houston in 1997, '99 and '01, but they couldn't escape their own postseason demons this time.

"This is what you can do when you've got special guys," said Roger Clemens, who came out of retirement to pitch for his hometown club. "Every championship team has guys who are special like this. I'm so happy. This is what I came here for."

The Astros matched the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers for most series losses before getting their first win. The Bums won the World Series on their eighth try.

"When I got here, they told me they had always had problems getting to the next step," said Beltran, who was acquired from Kansas City in June. "I knew it was going to be tough."

Atlanta has lost Game 5 of the division series three years in a row -- all at Turner Field. The second-largest crowd in franchise history, 54,068, looked on.

Beltran homered four times in the series, breaking the Houston record for a postseason series. In a poignant note, the record was formerly held by Ken Caminiti, who hit three in an opening-round loss to the Braves in 1999.

Caminiti, who spent 10 seasons with the Astros, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack at 41.

The news hit Caminiti's former teammates -- Biggio and Bagwell -- especially hard.

"I'm not going to lie to you. It was tough," Biggio said. "I think I felt his spirit out there."

"I think Cammy would be proud," Bagwell added.

Next up for the wild-card Astros is a matchup against Central Division rival St. Louis in the NLCS starting tomorrow night at Busch Stadium.

The Braves, the team that proudly claims 13 straight division titles, still has only one World Series to show for it. It marked the fifth straight year that the Braves' season ended at the Ted.

This one was especially dismal, equaling the worst postseason loss in franchise history.

"Looking back at this team over the whole season, I'm pretty proud of the way we played," Chipper Jones said.

Game 5 wasn't a shining moment, though.

Houston jumped ahead, 3-0, on starter Jaret Wright, scoring two in the second and adding to their lead when Beltran homered into the Atlanta bullpen in the third.

The Braves had the big crowd roaring in the fifth. Rafael Furcal led off with a homer against Roy Oswalt, and Johnny Estrada hit another into the seats with two outs, pulling Atlanta within 3-2.

But Beltran quickly turned the tide back in Houston's favor. He started the sixth with a towering drive off Wright that just cleared the right-field wall.

Bagwell and Biggio, who took much of the blame for Houston's futility, finally silenced their critics. Biggio was 8 for 20 (.400) with a homer and four RBIs in the series. Bagwell was 7 for 22 (.318) with two homers and five RBIs.

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