HOUSTON -- Even if Roger Clemens wasn't slated to pitch Sunday's regular-season finale, it's safe to say Minute Maid Park still would have been a sellout.
After all, the Astros had the chance to clinch the National League Wild Card and were going for their club-record 18th consecutive win at home.
But even when there wasn't a special occassion to commemorate this season, fans still showed up. Sunday was the 24th sellout at Minute Maid Park this year, and it pushed the season attendance total to an unprecedented 3,087,872.
Even when the Astros seemingly hit rock bottom during the summer months, they were thrilled that the fans still continued to pack the park, even on days Clemens wasn't pitching.
"I don't think the fans gave up on us," manager Phil Garner said. "Yes, they got angry. When I came in, in the middle part of the season, we knew everybody was angry because expectations were high. I don't think they gave up on us. They were mad at us, but they didn't give up on us."
Not only did fans show up in droves, they were loud, too.
"I don't think they realize how much that helps us out," Roy Oswalt said. "Anytime the fans get into it, it's going to carry us through the whole game."
Craig Biggio / CF
Weight: 185 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"Our fans have been nothing but totally awesome the whole season," Craig Biggio said. "It's been a roller-coaster year for everybody. We started off the year like we did, then we ran into a couple pot holes in the road in the middle course of the season. Then we finished like we did in September, and our fans have been there day in and day out."
That made clinching at home that much sweeter for the 17-year Astros veteran.
"It's nice to win it at home," Biggio said. "Our fans have been the backbone of our team the whole season. They've been there through thick and thin. Being able to do it at home is really, really special."
Spousal support: Phil and Carol Garner have been together 33 years, but to see these two together, it's clear the honeymoon is not over.
When she talks about her husband, Mrs. Scrap Iron lights up like a schoolgirl with a crush on the hunky quarterback. She wore such an expression as she stood with the Garner clan outside the Astros' clubhouse Sunday afternoon, soon after the Astros had clinched the NL Wild Card.
Reveling in her husband's banner day as the skipper of this playoff-bound team, Carol pointed to a pin she was wearing on her shirt. It was a picture of a much younger Phil in his Astros uniform, circa 1986.
"This was the last time he was in the playoffs," she explained. "I figure it was a good time to bring it back out, for good luck."
Never give up: In the weeks leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and in the weeks following, general manager Gerry Hunsicker insisted time and again he never entertained the idea of trading Jeff Kent or Carlos Beltran.
Some in the industry chose not to believe him. Others ridiculed he and owner Drayton McLane for not breaking up this fledging team.
Now, McLane and Hunsicker are having the last laugh.
"We were behind these guys all the time," Hunsicker said. "We really were. We knew we had the horses. They just weren't running. At the July trading deadline, there was a third of the season left to go. To pull the plug after what we had been through, it just didn't make any sense."
"I give credit to Gerry Hunsicker," Garner said. "The general manager is under tremendous pressure in situations like this. He did not break up the team and he never once said to me, 'I'm going to have to do something tomorrow or the next day.' He stayed with it all the way. It leads me to believe he didn't give up, either."
Carlos Beltran / CF
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R
Carlos for prez: You have to hand it to Astros fans. Not only did they not give up on their team throughout this turbulent season, but they also came up with some creative ways to express to management, a la the presidential election, what they want to see from this club in the future.
During the Astros' clinching game against the Rockies Sunday, the television cameras caught a shot of a sign that bore Beltran's picture, with the words: "Beltran for center field. Four more years."
The glass is half full: McLane, the eternal optimist, is always ready with a handshake, a smile, and his favorite expression: "Are you ready to be a champion?" It is hard to find someone with a sunnier outlook than the 13-year owner of the Astros.
In the Astros' skipper, McLane has found a partner in crime, in terms of always seeing the proverbial glass as half full. Take Sunday morning, for example.
"Roger Clemens was going to be your starting pitcher and all of a sudden you find out he wasn't," McLane said. "[Garner] was the optimist. He was cheering me up when I was talking to him. He said, 'Hey, this is going to work out perfect.' I love his attitude."
Alyson Footer 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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