HOUSTON - Pinch-hitter Darin Erstad hit a game-ending home run in the ninth inning to lift Houston to a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night, but the Astros were still eliminated from playoff contention.
Houston entered 31/2 games back of the New York Mets and Milwaukee in the NL wild-card chase. The Mets lost to the Florida Marlins but the Brewers beat the Chicago Cubs to eliminate the Astros.
Erstad's third career game-winning homer bailed out closer Jose Valverde (6-3), who gave up the tying run in the top of the ninth. Julian Tavarez (1-4) retired Humberto Quintero in the bottom half before Erstad homered to right on the first pitch he saw.
Houston led 4-0 after three innings against Jorge Campillo.
Kaz Matsui led off the first with a double to right. Michael Bourn bunted and Campillo fielded it, but his throw bounced away from first baseman Casey Kotchman and Matsui scored. Campillo was charged with an error.
Ty Wigginton drove a one-out, solo homer to right in the second inning. Jeff Francoeur had a chance to snag it, but a fan caught the ball, just out of the right fielder's reach.
Bourn beat out an infield hit in the Astros' third and advanced on Miguel Tejada's groundout. Lance Berkman flew out to deep center and the speedy Bourn sprinted home from second to push the lead to 3-0. Hunter Pence added an RBI double.
Casey Kotchman hit a two-run single off Brian Moehler after the Braves loaded the bases in the fourth.
Buddy Carlyle relieved Campillo for the Houston fourth. Campillo threw 51 pitches, giving up seven hits.
Houston manager Cecil Cooper brought in left-hander Tim Byrdak to replace Moehler with two outs in the sixth. Moehler allowed only four hits.
Kelly Johnson's sacrifice fly off LaTroy Hawkins in the eighth cut Houston's lead to 4-3. It was the first run allowed by Hawkins in 23 appearances since the Astros acquired him from the New York Yankees on July 30.