Juiced to be at Minute Maid
Astros hope their home success continues in playoffs
HOUSTON -- After getting out of Atlanta with a split, the Astros have the Braves right where they want them: at Minute Maid Park.
"We've played a lot better at home than on the road -- let's just hope that continues," Astros first baseman Lance Berkman said. "Unfortunately, in the playoffs, or any short series for that matter, that [home record] doesn't count for anything once the game starts."
Still, the Astros are confident coming home with the National League Division Series tied, despite being soundly beaten, 7-1, in Game 2 on Thursday night with seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens on the mound.
The loss on a dreary night in Atlanta seemed all but forgotten by the Astros under the sunny skies here Friday afternoon.
Considering how they have played at home, that wasn't surprising.
"We've played a lot better here than we have on the road," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "The last couple of years, the home-field advantage has been an advantage for us. Let's hope it continues."
The Astros were 53-28 during the regular season at Minute Maid Park, tied for the second-best home record in the Major Leagues, behind Boston (54-27). They have won four of their last five postseason games here, with the only defeat coming last year against the Braves in the 2004 NLDS.
The Astros have assumed the home-field advantage after splitting the first two games at Turner Field. Other aspects of the series haven't changed: For the third straight game two outstanding starting pitchers will face each other.
Atlanta right-hander Jorge Sosa, 13-3 with a 2.55 ERA during the regular season, matches up with Houston right-hander Roy Oswalt, 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA.
"They're a dangerous team anywhere," Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones said. "And with Oswalt going, they're even tougher. We know we have our work cut out for us."
At Turner Field, the two offenses were better than expected -- though much of the output came against the bullpens -- as the Braves barely outscored the Astros, 12-11. Atlanta is hitting .312, compared to .292 for Houston. The Braves' team ERA for the series is 5.50 compared to 6.35 for the Astros.
Oswalt hasn't pitched since Sunday, and that was a must-win game against the Chicago Cubs. Oswalt notched his 20th victory to clinch the Wild Card berth for Houston.
The right-hander said the extra time off won't be a problem and might even help him.
"It would be great to go up 2-1, especially at home with one more game to play," Oswalt said. "Pressure's always on me, it seems. But I like big games. Hopefully [I can] get the guys going. We're ready to play. The game plan going into Atlanta would be to take one; that would be great coming back to our home field, with our home fans. It's great."
Oswalt is 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in four career playoff appearances. Oswalt has never beaten the Braves and is 0-2 with a 6.41 ERA in five games against Atlanta, including 0-1 with a 12.60 ERA in one start this season.
For Sosa, it will be his first career postseason start.
"I'm just going to play tomorrow the best that I can," Sosa said. "I have a lot of pressure on myself, but I'm going to do the best I can and I'm going to dedicate the game tomorrow to my family and my daughters."
Game 3 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, though the first pitch is not expected until 7:05 p.m. CT.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.