ATLANTA — As much as the Atlanta Braves have struggled recently, Mark Teixeira couldn’t imagine the toll of losing a 17-inning marathon.
“We had to have this game,” the first baseman said, “especially going on a long road trip.”
Teixeira singled off the wall in left-center with the bases loaded in the 17th, giving the Atlanta Braves a 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday in the longest game in Turner Field history.
Rain delayed the start of the game by 1 hour, 50 minutes, and solid pitching extended it much longer.
The Braves, who begin a six-game West Coast trip today, rallied with two runs in the eighth inning to tie it, and each team had several chances to score the go-ahead run.
Gregor Blanco finally did, after singling off Tim Byrdak (2-1) to lead off the 17th. Yunel Escobar followed with a bunt single and Chipper Jones loaded the bases with a base hit to right, before Teixeira’s ball went over the head of a drawn-in outfield for the winning hit.
“If we’ve got to work this hard to win one,” Jones said with a laugh, “I don’t know if we’re going to have enough gas in the tank.”
Royce Ring (2-1) pitched the 17th for Atlanta, getting Byrdak to ground out with Carlos Lee stranded at third to end the inning.
“My guys battled,” Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. “That’s all you can ask. Every pitcher that went there battled. We were down to using tomorrow’s starter (Runelvys Hernandez). He would’ve been the next one out of the shoot.”
The Braves have won two of three following a five-game losing streak, despite stranding 21 of the game’s 35 runners. Each team used seven pitchers in the Braves’ longest regular-season game since beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3 in 18 innings on Aug. 3, 1996.
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox wasn’t around to see it, either. He was ejected for the fifth time this season for arguing Blanco’s strikeout in the fifth inning.
The Braves and Houston have a history of playing extra innings. The two teams went 18 in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS, which the Astros won 7-6 to clinch the series.
Early on, this one didn’t looked as if it was destined to go 5 hours, 35 minutes.
Houston jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third on Ty Wigginton’s first career grand slam, but the Braves began chipping away. Jones and Teixeira drove in runs in their half of the third, and Teixeira drove in another run off Wesley Wright in the seventh that made it 6-4.
Escobar’s two-run single in the eighth off Jose Valverde tied it up, clearing the way for the Braves to improve to 2-7 in extra innings and 5-21 in one-run games this season.
Jones, who leads the majors with a .388 average, finished 3-for-5 with a solo homer in the first inning. His run-scoring triple in the third was his first triple since last Aug. 11 at Pittsburgh.
Several hours after getting officially named as the NL starter at third base for the All-Star Game, Jones wanted no part of speculating if this victory could boost the Braves, who are five games under .500, six games out of first and in fourth place in their division.