Notes: Lamb gets chance at first
Utilityman starts Game 3 at position he's played the most lately
HOUSTON -- When people ask Mike Lamb about his favorite position, the utilityman, who has started at first base, third base, left field and right field this season, responds: "The one I've been playing the most of lately."
And lately, Lamb has been playing a lot of first base, including Saturday, when he made his first start of the Division Series. Orlando Palmeiro started both games in Atlanta, and Lamb, as a bench player, did not factor into either game.
But manager Phil Garner feels comfortable enough with Lance Berkman playing left field at Minute Maid Park, which creates a space for Lamb at first.
Lamb started in 18 of the last 24 regular-season games, all at first base, and hit .338 (24-for-71) with five homers and 11 RBIs. On Saturday, Garner slotted in Lamb as the No. 5 hitter, behind cleanup man Morgan Ensberg.
"I'm trying to get the best offensive thing out there I think I can get," Garner said.
Ending the year with more of a defined role could help Lamb in the postseason. Often criticized for his defensive shortcomings, Lamb did not make an error in his last 30 games. The regular playing time likely helped him with the steady hand.
"I feel like I've been in a pretty good rhythm on defense all season," he said. "Last year, I had my troubles when it was once a week at third. First base is a little bit easier. You don't have to worry about throwing so much. You can just worry about catching the ball.
"Not that I'm worried about throwing, but playing third, you have to field it and get the ball to a certain place in less time. At first base, it's basically knock it down and flip to the pitcher or take it yourself. It eliminates a little bit of action."
Stamp of approval: Garner is known as aggressive, hands-on and communicative, qualities that are embraced by his players.
Players always say that hitting is contagious. Apparently, so is enthusiasm. Closer Brad Lidge praised Garner for his open style of communication, citing that quality as the most glaring difference bewteen the current skipper and former manager Jimy Williams.
"[Garner] is a lot more hands on, a lot more vocal with the players," Lidge said. "He seems to talk to guys a lot more and wants to know how they're feeling day to day. I think right when Garner came over, I remember him saying, 'You're going to be my closer. This is how I want to use you. Just tell me if anything doesn't agree with you or what you want to do.'"
On Garner being aggressive, Lidge said: "I think guys love it. Sometimes, when you're out there in the game and your manager is kind of passive, I think that's the only time players get kind of frustrated. If you're aggressive and you're trying to make things happen, the players love that."
Roof closed: Opposing players have referred to Minute Maid Park as a "snake pit" when the roof is closed, and the Astos are hoping one of their biggest weapons -- crowd noise -- will help them in Games 3 and 4 of the Division Series this weekend.
Although the weather is picture perfect in Houston, the roof at the ballpark will be closed. That was the team's preference and the front office agreed.
"The [Astro]dome was our homefield advantage," general manager Tim Purpura said. "Playing with the roof closed here is our advantage. You have to play well, but once the crowd gets into it, it's pretty exciting."
High noon: Game 4 of the Division Series will begin at noon CT on Sunday, which isn't exactly an ideal start time for baseball people who are used to playing at night.
"I wish we didn't have to do that, but that's what it is," Garner said. "I like Reggie Jackson's comment long ago -- it's not a baseball season, it's an endurance contest. The good news is we're not traveling to the West Coast or East Coast. We're playing in our own house and that's got to be a little something in our favor."
Odds and ends: Under the bill of his cap, Brandon Backe has the words "Don't stop. Never quit" written in permanent ink. "That's been written in my hat ever since high school," he said. "That's the way I live." ... Backe will pitch Game 4, unless, according to Garner, Game 3 goes 15 or 16 innings and he has to use Backe. In that dire circumstance, Andy Pettitte would likely pitch Game 4 on short rest. ... Garner offered congratulations to the White Sox, who swept the Red Sox in the Division Series. "They certainly played well," Garner said. "It looked like, coming down the stretch, they were kind of limping into the playoff picture. They definitely stepped it up against Boston, a team that just doesn't quit."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.