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Astros Hope to Slow White Sox at Home

Oswalt will try to get Houston back into the series at Minute Maid Park, where the team has won four of five postseason games.

October 25, 2005|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — The Houston Astros will put their best postseason pitcher, Roy Oswalt, on the mound tonight, attempt to revive the game that got them here, and make something of a World Series leaning toward the Chicago White Sox.

Otherwise, their first World Series will be gone almost before they know it, a plucky early postseason followed by a bubbly party and minimal resistance.

They have lost the first two games of the Series but have returned to their quirky ballpark at Crawford and Texas streets for the next two games at least.

The off-day developments included a number of discussions about whether Minute Maid Park's retractable roof should be open, a decision baseball officials said wouldn't be made until today, and the fact that the Astros had trimmed their lucky beards into lucky goatees.

"Mustaches were thrown out there," Astro third baseman Morgan Ensberg said. "We hear they're hot in England."

In America, they're Geraldo.

"The beards got us here," reliever Russ Springer said with a smile. "Now we got to do something else."

Faced with a White Sox team that has won nine of 10 postseason games, has admittedly gotten every break -- from umpire error to slumping Angels to two Scott Podsednik home runs -- and has played well too, the Astros take to the park in which they won 53 regular-season games, and four of five in the playoffs. They'll give the ball to Oswalt, the right-hander who won 20 games in each of the last two seasons and is 3-0 with a 2.11 earned-run average this postseason.

It is not entirely foolproof, beard adjustments aside. Jon Garland, an 18-game winner, is scheduled to pitch for the White Sox, who won a major league-best 52 games on the road.

"It would be nice to get the first win, first game at home, so we can kind of switch momentum," Oswalt said.

The Astros batted .239 in the first two games, which was about how most figured the Series would go, given the emphasis on pitching and defense by both clubs. Except the White Sox batted .328 and hit four home runs, which accounted for seven of their 12 runs in the series so far.

"Well, we've played a little bit of small ball, it's just not winning," Astro Manager Phil Garner said. "We're making some bad pitches and they're not missing them either. A lot of things are going well for them. As a matter of fact, everything has gone well for them so far. When we make mistakes they hammer them. They haven't popped them up and they haven't hit them at anybody."

But the Astros are a loose bunch, and don't yet seem burdened by the results of a Series that took them 44 seasons to reach. Asked whether it would be the biggest game he'd ever pitched, Oswalt responded, "It's the biggest game tomorrow on TV, for sure."

The White Sox remained wary of a team that ran down the wild card in the regular season, then the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs. The Astros lived through a crushing home run by Albert Pujols in the National League championship series and eliminated the Cardinals two days later, so they would seem to be experts in playing away from Podsednik's unlikely home run Sunday night.

"We're not overconfident," White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said, "because we're not that good. We just play good baseball."

Brad "Lights Out" Lidge, the closer who gave up both home runs, said he intended to take the ball when it was offered, and had even earned a new nickname in his dark hours.

"Today," he said, "[Brad] Ausmus called me, 'Lights On' Lidge."

Meantime, Astro officials were lobbying Major League Baseball executives to keep the roof closed.

The team says it believes the din created and contained in a sealed ballpark is their rightful home-field advantage, given they have played each of their previous five home playoff games as such.

Baseball officials said they would consider the weather before making the call, in terms of temperature and precipitation. Rain is not expected, but the temperature could fall below 50 degrees. Some players compared their edge in the small, noisy park to the White Sox's advantage in a cold, rainy park.

"I'm not sure of [MLB's] fascination with the American League," Ensberg said. "I think they've completely overstepped [their] bounds. I think if you polled our fans they'd absolutely want the roof closed.... I don't think it should be in the realm of [MLB] telling our owner what to do."

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