Jim Leyritz has done it before: a dramatic, late-inning homer to tie or win a postseason game.

This time, it wasn't enough."I think it is just being in the right place at the right time," Leyritz said Thursday after his two-run, two-out homer in the ninth erased a 4-2 deficit Houston had over San Diego.

Unfortunately for the Padres, Bill Spiers singled home the winning run in the bottom half, and the teams headed to San Diego tied 1-all in the best-of-5 series.

Two years ago, Leyritz's three-run, seventh-inning homer off Atlanta's Mark Wohlers tied Game 4 of the World Series 6-all, and the Yankees went on to win the game and the Series.

In 1995, his 15th-inning homer off Seattle's Tim Belcher gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in their first-round series.

"It doesn't compare to my World Series home run," Leyritz said. "If we had gone on and won today, and went on to the World Series, it would have been big. But to turn around and lose as quickly as we did after the home run was a little disappointing."

Leyritz, batting for Wally Joyner, connected off Billy Wagner, making him 8-for-30 in postseason play with four homers and 10 RBIs.

"I've never seen him before," Leyritz said. "I heard he throws hard. He's going to come at you. Fortunately I was able to get out in front of it."

Wagner ended up getting the victory. He had a thin smile on his face when Leyritz's hit cleared the right-field fence.

"I threw him a 98 mile-an-hour fastball up and away, and it stayed true all the way out," Wagner said. "When he hit it, I thought it was foul but I was laughing because I knew that I supplied the power behind that home run."

San Diego then put runners on first and second on consecutive singles by Carlos Hernandez and Chris Gomez, but George Arias made the final out with a strikeout.

"It's tough to lose like this," said Tony Gwynn, unhappy to return home with a mere split.

The Padres were 54-27 at home this year, including 3-3 against Houston.

"I'd like to say it feels good, but we felt like we had a chance to take both games after taking the first game," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Jim got that big home run there, it's a tied ballgame, so we were close to taking both of them. So I guess it's good to get a split. But it's disheartening too, that we couldn't take this game."

After the Astros took a 3-0 lead off Andy Ashby and Bochy brought in Joey Hamilton, making only the fifth relief appearance of his career. Hamilton allowed one hit in three shutout innings, but Derek Bell hit a solo homer in the eighth off former Astros reliever Donne Wall.

"I felt a little strange," Hamilton said. "I've done it a few times and when a game like this is on the line, you come in you get a little fired up. I prefer to start, but if I can come out and help this team, I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Gwynn is anxious for Game 3 on Saturday.

"I think we're still in pretty good shape," he said. "Nobody gave us a chance to begin with. The fact we're going home with a split will surprise some people."

PLAYOFF NOTES: With an eye on bringing the World Series to Texas for the first time, the Houston Astros are hoping to position ace Randy Johnson to start three games in the National League Championship Series.

While San Diego manager Bruce Bochy is leaning toward starting Kevin Brown on three days' rest Saturday in Game 3, Houston counterpart Larry Dierker indicated he hopes to save Johnson for Monday's decisive fifth game, if necessary, or Game 1 against the Cubs-Atlanta winner.

"We talked about that with Randy, and he's willing to do it," Dierker said about having Johnson start Game 3 on three days' rest. "However, we're probably going to wait and have him either on his fifth day (for Game 4 on Sunday) or, should we win the third game, even wait until the last game here in the event that we can win the series without him and he could start the next series."

If Bochy follows through on starting Brown instead of left-hander Sterling Hitchcock in Game 3, Brown could start Game 1 of the NLCS only by making a third consecutive start on three days' rest. If the NLCS went the full seven games, Brown would have to make five starts in a row on three days' rest to be available for a seventh game.