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Astros win 18th in a row at home

Houston Astros' Jeff Bagwell, left, yells as Brad Ausmus is doused in champagne after the Astros clinched the National League wild-card spot.
Houston Astros' Jeff Bagwell, left, yells as Brad Ausmus is doused in champagne after the Astros clinched the National League wild-card spot.
Pat Sullivan, Associated Press

HOUSTON — The Houston Astros charged into the playoffs with their 18th consecutive home victory, capping an incredible turnaround by beating Colorado 5-3 Sunday to win the NL wild card.

Brandon Backe (5-3) filled in admirably for an ailing Roger Clemens, pitching five strong innings and driving in two runs.

Houston won the final seven games of the regular season and nine of the last 10 to complete an amazing late-season push for the playoffs under manager Phil Garner, who replaced Jimy Williams at the All-Star break.

The Astros will go to Atlanta for Game 1 of the division series on Wednesday — the Braves have eliminated Houston three times in the last seven postseasons.

The Astros' win eliminated San Francisco in the race for baseball's final playoff spot this year.

The Rocket was all set to start on three days' rest, but he was scratched in the morning after coming down with a stomach virus overnight.

Jamey Wright (2-3) went only four innings, allowing five runs and five hits.

METS 8, EXPOS 1: At New York, the Expos lost their final game before moving to Washington, and Todd Zeile hit a three-run homer in his final at-bat.

The game was also the last for Art Howe as the Mets' manager. He was fired Sept. 15, but chose to stay on to finish out a dismal season in which the Mets went 71-91.

The Expos got off to a good start Sunday, scoring a run on Terrmel Sledge's RBI single, but didn't have any success against Tom Glavine (11-14) afterward, mustering just three hits in his six innings.

Sledge got the Expos' final hit — Bob Bailey had the first — in the eighth off John Franco, who was making his 695th and perhaps last appearance for New York.

David Wright hit a two-run homer off John Patterson (4-7), making Montreal's last start — Mudcat Grant made the Expos' first.

CARDINALS 9, BREWERS 4: At St. Louis, Ray Lankford hit a two-run pinch-hit homer in what could've been his final game with St. Louis.

Albert Pujols doubled twice, So Taguchi doubled and tripled and Yadier Molina homered for the NL Central champions, who won only two of their last seven games. St. Louis finished a major league-best 105-57, one win shy of the franchise record for victories set in 1942.

The Cardinals open the playoffs at home on Tuesday against the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lyle Overbay and Keith Ginter had RBI doubles for the Brewers, who finished 67-94 — one victory behind last season's total. The Brewers have had 12 straight losing seasons, tied with the Pirates for the longest current run of futility.

Kiko Calero (3-1) allowed one hit in a scoreless fourth. Brewers starter Jorge de la Rosa (0-3) worked five innings, giving up four runs on eight hits.

CUBS 10, BRAVES 8: At Chicago, Greg Maddux beat Atlanta in his first appearance against the Braves in 12 years.

Maddux (16-11) worked six innings and gave up a pair of homers to Charles Thomas while yielding six runs.

The Cubs, eliminated from the wild-card race Saturday after losing seven of eight games, got homers from Moises Alou, Mark Grudzielanek and rookie Jason Dubois in the season finale at Wrigley Field.

Atlanta will start the postseason at home Wednesday against Houston.

Maddux now has 305 victories, 194 with the Braves and 111 for the Cubs.

LaTroy Hawkins worked the ninth for his 25th save in 34 chances.

Paul Byrd (8-7) lasted just four innings, giving up nine hits and nine runs.

PHILLIES 10, MARLINS 4: At Philadelphia, Bobby Abreu hit his 30th homer and Jimmy Rollins had a grand slam.

Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre became just the third player since 1971 to play every one of his team's innings in the field, joining Detroit's Travis Fryman (1995) and Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr. (1983-86).

The Phillies made a winner of Gary Varsho, who managed the last two games and lost in his debut Saturday. General manager Ed Wade said the future of the rest of the coaching staff would be decided this week.

Brett Myers (11-11) allowed three runs and five hits in five innings.

Abreu hit a solo homer off Ismael Valdez (14-9) in the third to join the 30-30 club for the second time. He finished with 30 homers and 40 stolen bases. Abreu had 31 homers and 36 stolen bases in 2001 and is the only Phillies player in the 30-30 club.

PIRATES 2, REDS 0: At Cincinnati, Barry Larkin played in what might have been his final game for Cincinnati, then told fans he hopes to be back.

The 40-year-old shortstop, who has spent all 19 seasons with the Reds, started the game and was replaced after three innings — getting a proper send-off from fans and teammates.

"Thank you all, and I hope to see you next year," he told fans, getting a loud cheer from the 30,854 fans.

Larkin is a free agent, but wants to play another season either in Cincinnati or somewhere else.

Oliver Perez (12-10) gave up five hits and struck out nine in six innings.

Tony Alvarez's fourth-inning sacrifice fly off Brandon Claussen (2-7) and Jose Castillo's solo homer made the difference.

Jose Mesa pitched the last inning for his 43rd save.

GIANTS 10, DODGERS 0: At Los Angeles, in a regular-season finale that resembled an exhibition game, Jason Schmidt (18-7) pitched six dominant innings, and Ray Durham and Pedro Feliz hit first-inning homers.

The Dodgers will face the Cardinals beginning Tuesday in St. Louis in their first postseason appearance in eight years. Odalis Perez (7-6) will pitch for Los Angeles against Woody Williams (11-8).

The Giants headed home for the offseason — their fate sealed when Houston beat Colorado 5-3 earlier Sunday to clinch the wild card.

Barry Bonds hit .362 to win his second batting title in three seasons. He shattered his own on-base percentage and walk records, finishing with a .610 on-base percentage and 232 walks. His 120 intentional walks obliterated his previous record of 68.

Durham hit the second pitch from Kazuhisa Ishii (13-8) for his 17th homer, and Feliz hit his 22nd one out later.

DIAMONDBACKS 4, PADRES 1: At Phoenix, Doug DeVore, Robby Hammock and Juan Brito hit rare home runs, and the Diamondbacks ended a miserable season on a positive note.

Three years after Arizona beat the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series, the Diamondbacks went a major league-worst 51-111.

Even with wins Saturday and Sunday, Arizona tied for the 10th-most losses by a team in major league history.

Brandon Webb (7-16) allowed one run and five hits in seven innings and walked none. Greg Aquino got his 16th save.

David Wells (12-8) gave up four runs and six hits in five innings.