More than anything else, Game 4 of the 2005 National League Division Series between the Astros and Braves will always be remembered for Roger Clemens coming out of the bullpen to pitch three scoreless innings in relief and Chris Burke socking an 18th-inning walk-off homer to clinch the Series.
Burke's homer into the Crawford Boxes sparked a huge celebration at Minute Maid Park on Oct. 9, 2005, and vaulted the Astros into the NL Championship Series for the second year in a row, where they'd beat the Cardinals and play in the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
The game had so many dramatic twists and turns that neither Clemens nor Burke would have had a chance to play the role of October hero if some of their teammates hadn't stepped up earlier in the game. Lance Berkman's eighth-inning grand slam to get the Astros to within a run at 6-5 was about as clutch as it gets, but it was an unlikely source who saved the game an inning later.
Game to Remember
|Brad Ausmus and Figures|
|1. Full name: Bradley David Ausmus.|
|2. Game to Remember: Oct. 9, 2005 (Astros 7, Braves 6, 18 innings).|
|3. Nickname: None.|
|4. Jersey No.: 11.|
|5. Primary Position: C.|
|6. Bats/Throws: Right/Right.|
|7. Born: April 14, 1969.|
|8. Birthplace: Cheshire, Conn.|
|9. Major League debut: July 28, 1993.|
|10. Years in Major Leagues: 18.|
|11. Years with Houston: 10 (1997-98, 2001-08).|
|12. Other teams: Padres (1993-96), Tigers (1996, 1999-2000), Dodgers (2009-10).|
|13. Key stats with Houston: .246 batting average, 41 homers, 486 RBIs.|
|14. Claim to fame: Ausmus is the Astros' all-time leader for catchers with 1,259 games, 1,119 starts, 970 hits and 415 runs.|
|15. Did you know? Ausmus homered off former Astros teammate Mike Hampton in his final game with Houston in 2008.|
|16. What's he doing now? Ausmus is a special assistant with the Padres.|
Astros catcher Brad Ausmus, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner who was known more for his defensive prowess than his power stroke, sent the game to extra innings with a two-out homer to left-center field that struck barely above the yellow line for a game-tying homer.
When asked if it was the biggest hit of his career, Ausmus wise-cracked: "Clearly ... and maybe the farthest."
That was the last run the teams would score for nine more innings as the Astros and Braves battled tooth and nail for five hours and 50 minutes in what Ausmus considers the greatest game in which he played in his 10 years in a Houston uniform.
"What I remember is I played the whole game," Ausmus said. "I caught the first 12 innings, and then I went to first base and [Raul] Chavez went to catch. I caught the last three when Roger came in."
Clemens, Houston's eighth and final pitcher, added to his legacy when he threw three scoreless innings in relief and wound up as the winning pitcher. For Ausmus, the biggest story of the day didn't take place on the field.
"We were not only out of [position] players and out of pitchers, obviously, but our starter for Game 5 in Atlanta was Andy Pettitte, and he was home sick," Ausmus said. "He was on his way back, and if we would have had to use Andy, we didn't have anybody to pitch in Atlanta the following day if we went to a Game 5. Gar [manager Phil Garner] didn't have many options after Roger. Roger was going to pitch until his arm fell off."
The Astros were trailing, 6-1, in the eighth when Berkman hit a grand slam into the Crawford Boxes, cutting the Braves' lead to 6-5. Atlanta closer Kyle Farnsworth recorded two outs to start the ninth, which meant Ausmus was Houston's final hope.
Ausmus had only hit three homers in 387 regular-season at-bats that season, so the blast was certainly as surprising as it was dramatic. Of course, Ausmus -- one of the smartest players in baseball -- was already thinking ahead.
"Ironically, I remember rounding third base on that home run, and in my mind, I was thinking, '[Eric] Bruntlett is up,' so if we couldn't score here it's a tied game, and I was thinking who they had coming up the next inning," Ausmus said. "Once the homer was signaled, I was past the fact."
By the time the 18th inning rolled around, Ausmus was so tired, he was in the clubhouse sitting on a chair and watching the game unfold on TV. Like thousands of Astros fans, he jumped to his feet when he saw Burke hit his game-winning homer on television to end the marathon, sending Houston to the next round.
"My legs at that point were getting tired," he said. "I was kind of riding it out, and out of nowhere Burkey hits his home run."