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Ausmus comes up big in clincher

Ausmus comes up big in Game 6

ST. LOUIS -- The Astros' champagne spraying was at its apex of wildness on Wednesday night.

Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio found themselves drenched, with every microphone, camera and tape recorder that was in the faces of the veterans getting a washing. Jason Lane shook a bottle and wiped out the big three pitchers, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, and some of the spray doused FOX analyst Steve Lyons' finely tailored suit.

Yet veteran catcher Brad Ausmus avoided the madness. Ausmus circled the periphery of the celebration, offering quiet, personal, meaningful words where they could be heard.

But don't think that nearly 13 Major League seasons have drowned out the little boy in Ausmus, who knocked three hits in the 5-1 victory over the Cardinals to help the Astros win the National League Championship Series, 4-2, and advance to their first World Series.

"That's why you play," Ausmus said. "I haven't been to the World Series since I was in a Wiffle Ball game in the back yard of my house at 10 years old."

Ausmus offered his usual smooth work behind home plate -- NLCS MVP Roy Oswalt was his usual outstanding self for seven three-hit innings, but someone had to help him and two relievers face a tough Cards lineup and a roaring crowd.

But Ausmus, who batted .258 during the regular season, knocked three big singles to raise his average over the six games with the Cardinals to .318. The first, a single to left in the third inning that was the first hit off Cardinals left-handed starter Mark Mulder, was the most important. It started a two-run inning that gave Oswalt all he would need.

Ausmus also had a hit during the one-run sixth inning.

Earlier in the series, Ausmus said the Astros could not afford to become dependent on the key part of the order. The words proved prophetic. Lance Berkman had a strong series, hitting .286 with a home run, and three RBIs, but cleanup man Morgan Ensberg hit .238.

However, Ausmus kept innings alive by posting a .409 on-base percentage in the Nos. 7 and 8 spots. He wasn't the only one low in the order to produce big.

Jason Lane, who hit fifth on Wednesday, went deep and had two key homers in the series. Chris Burke, who put the Astros in the NLCS with an 18th-inning walk-off homer against Atlanta, homered and tripled in the first two games of this series, and reached base at a .550 clip. Adam Everett, the No. 8 hitter, singled and scored, and drove in a sixth-inning run with a squeeze bunt, plus finished the series with a .500 OBP.

"We've needed an effort from everybody -- it's how we've won all year," Lane said.

"You have to have it," Ausmus said. "Every part of the order needs to contribute in a series like this. The bottom part of the order doesn't necessarily have to drive in runs, but if it's on base for the top part of the order, they can score some runs. So it's certainly true of any team, not just ours."

But Ausmus' team was the one soaked in champagne. Ausmus' attention has already turned to trying to bathe in a better feeling.

"I'm not overwhelmed by it," he said. "We'd still like to win the World Series. It's not just about getting there."

There's no doubt he won it when he was 10.

Thomas Harding 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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