Open or shut case as World Series takes Texas turn
HOUSTON -- Back in their bizarre ballpark, the Houston Astros are ready to raise the roof when the World Series resumes tonight -- only Major League Baseball might not let them.
The first two games were played in the cold at U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox took a 2-0 Series lead and moved within two wins of their first title since 1917.
On Monday, the teams worked out at sunny Minute Maid Park, where the center-field fence is 438 feet away and up a hill, and clearing the left-field wall takes only a 315-foot poke.
While the roof was retracted for batting practice, the Astros would rather have it shut tight tonight, when the state of Texas hosts a World Series game for the first time. The Astros' Roy Oswalt, 3-0 during the postseason, will try to be king of the hill, opposed by Chicago's Jon Garland.
"I'm not going to try to pitch somebody different because a short porch or a deep porch," Garland said.
In yet another postseason series where umpires' calls have been debated, the roof was just as hot a topic. The Astros were 36-17 at home when it was closed during the regular season, 15-11 when it was rolled back and 2-0 in games that began indoors and finished in fresh air.
During the regular season, the Astros pick their environment. But during the postseason, the commissioner's office makes that call.
Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, will decide the open-or-shut case today, when the forecast calls for clear skies with a temperature in the low 60s.
"If it's a nice day and no chance of precipitation and it's not overly hot and humid, yeah, we'll open the roof," Solomon said from his office in New York.
That didn't sit well with the Astros.
"I don't think they should step in and tell us what to do in our field, because it's our home-field advantage now," Oswalt said. "I think Chicago had their advantage there -- cold, windy. They've been playing in it all year; we haven't. So let's bring it back home and give the advantage to us now."
Added catcher Brad Ausmus: "Frankly, it's a little ridiculous that MLB would take control of that. This isn't their game."
Houston owner Drayton McLane was a bit more diplomatic.
"It's a combination of MLB and us. It's our roof," he said. "We'll wait to see what the weather is tomorrow."
In 2001, the commissioner's office ordered the roof open at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, where the Diamondbacks' Curt Schilling preferred an indoor environment that he thought favored pitchers. The Astros believe they have more of an advantage indoors, when fan noise rattles ears, much as it did at Minnesota's Metrodome during the Series in 1987 and 1991.
Thus far in the postseason, Chicago has pretty much romped everywhere -- at home, Fenway Park and Angels Stadium. The White Sox are 9-1, threatening to join the 1999 New York Yankees as the only teams to make it through the postseason with just one loss since the third round began in 1995.
"Whoever get the most hits with two outs is the one that's going to win," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Chicago is batting .385 (15-39) with two outs and runners in scoring position during the postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, with three homers and 22 RBI. The Astros are hitting just .224 in that situation.
But at home, the Astros have put the squeeze on opponents: They're 4-1 at Minute Maid in the postseason for the second straight season.
Only twice since May has the roof been open for games -- both during the last series of the regular season.
Houston third baseman Morgan Ensberg thinks the difference is huge.
"It's a different place with the roof closed," he said. "I don't think they understand when those guys are cheering, how loud it really gets. It throws your equilibrium off. They're not going to be able to hear each other."
Coordination could prove huge in this ballpark. The wall is 19 feet high by the Crawford Boxes in left. In center, the field slopes up at a 10-degree angle on Tal's Hill, a tribute by Astros president Tal Smith to Cincinnati's old Crosley Field. There's a flagpole on it that's in play, homage to Detroit's Tiger Stadium.
"You're going to end up on your face before you hit the pole trying to get up the hill," Chicago center fielder Aaron Rowand said. "If you hit it, you hit it, so what• I've run into a lot more things."
Given the way he's been hitting, Chicago's Scott Podsednik probably will hit an opposite-field drive off the left-field wall or over it. After not hitting any homers during the regular season, the Texan has two in the postseason, including the ninth-inning winner on Sunday night, just the 14th game-ending homer in Series history.
"I get goose bumps just thinking about it," he said. "Running around the bases, I can't recall what I was feeling. Everything was blank. I couldn't hear anything."
As for the umpires, some critics were questioning their eyesight, especially after plate umpire Jeff Nelson ruled Jermaine Dye was hit by a pitch in Game 2, setting up Paul Konerko's seventh-inning grand slam. Replays appeared to show the pitch hit Dye's bat.
"These guys live and die based on whether their calls are correct," said Mike Port, baseball's vice president for umpiring. "They take it very hard when it appears they've been wrong. Like good players, they almost grieve over it."