ATLANTA -- It was a fun ride while it lasted. It took the Braves much farther than most expected, but its conclusion came much earlier than desired and brought the same anguish this organization has now felt for three consecutive years.
Reminding John Smoltz, Chipper Jones or Andruw Jones that this bunch wasn't even supposed to win their 13th consecutive title couldn't erase the disappointment they felt when the Braves concluded their season with a 12-3 loss to the Astros in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Turner Field on Monday snight.
"Obviously 15 minutes after each Game 5 ends, it feels the same," Chipper said. "But I don't know if you can throw this team in with the others, because this was improbable to a lot of people."
With a raucous crowd of 54,068 hoping to see the Braves continue their improbable run, an organization that has won 13 consecutive titles was forced to watch its chase toward another World Series end at home in Game 5 of the NLDS for the third straight year.
"I said there's no way this was going to be like any of the last 12, and yet, we watched somebody else celebrate on our home field in front of 50,000-some-odd people," Smoltz said. "I can absolutely share their frustration. I can only say that, 'I wish I was out there,' like anybody else would have wished. It just didn't happen."
For the Astros, whose clinching victory was again paced by the offensive exploits of Carlos Beltran, it didn't matter where they staged their celebration. Tasting champagne after notching the franchise's first postseason series victory would have been sweet had it been in Atlanta or on Mars.
Jaret Wright / P
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"History didn't give us an edge and it didn't give the Astros an edge," Smoltz said. "What ends up happening is we talk about history, instead of why we didn't get it done. We didn't get it done because we only led for four innings, we hardly got any two-out hits and we didn't stop anybody from getting two-out hits."
By the time this series concluded, the Braves had to be wondering whether Beltran was of this planet. The Astros center fielder produced two solo home runs off Jaret Wright in the finale to give him a franchise-record four homers in the postseason.
Beltran, who hit .429 during the series, also added an RBI single in Houston's five-run seventh inning that all but ended the hopes of the Braves staging their third comeback victory in this NLDS. Before the Astros began teeing off against Chris Reitsma with two outs in the seventh, Atlanta faced just a 4-2 deficit.
"I said after [Sunday's win] that this team was going to go as far as guts and desire would take you," Chipper said. "It just seemed like through the first seven innings we were gutting it out just to stay in the game. And then all of the sudden, the flood gates opened and we weren't able to keep our head above water anymore."
Rafael Furcal / SS
Weight: 165 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R
Given the benefit of facing Roy Oswalt on three days' rest, the Braves, who trailed for 43 of the 47 innings in the series, still couldn't take advantage and overcome the four bad pitches that marred Wright's effort. The Atlanta ace allowed four earned runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
After seeing a Lance Berkman single and Jeff Kent double ignite the Astros' two-run second inning, Wright was pretty much flawless the rest of his outing, except when facing Beltran, who had a one-out solo homer in the third and another to begin the sixth.
Wright was more impressive than Oswalt, who needed 111 pitches to complete his five-inning effort. But the Astros right-hander, who allowed two runs on seven hits in five innings, still emerged victorious because of Beltran and Jeff Bagwell, who highlighted the deflating five-run seventh with a two-run homer off Reitsma.
"It's never fun to lose," said Wright, who allowed three homers in his Game 1 loss. "You go out there lay it all on the line, which is what the game is all about, and then when you get beat it's no fun at all."
Johnny Estrada / C
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R
Through his first 89 pitches of the evening, Oswalt escaped unscathed. But during a nine-pitch span in the fifth inning, he surrendered solo homers to Game 2 hero Rafael Furcal and Johnny Estrada.
Because his bullpen had been overworked in the first four games of this series, Braves manager Bobby Cox was forced to call upon Reitsma, whose ineffectiveness prevented Furcal the opportunity to provide further heroics, like he did with his Game 2 walk-off homer.
"We really felt like we were going to win this game," Smoltz said. "There was a lot of doubt and a lot of uncertainty about how we were going to win the few games that we did. This was such a great feeling, and now it's a very terrible feeling."
With their five-run seventh inning, in which they tallied all of their runs with two outs, the Astros prevented the Braves from displaying that resilient spirit that enabled them to win 96 games this year and notch a couple of dramatic comeback victories in this NLDS.
"We feel like we earned this spot in the playoffs," Chipper said. "We played hard baseball to get it to a fifth game. Ultimately, we lost, but what can you do? You play as hard as you can, roll the dice and hope things happen for you. It just didn't happen for us tonight."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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