Houston is first and foremost a football town -- with high schools on Friday, colleges on Saturday, the NFL's Texans on Sundays, it's a religious holiday every weekend -- and the atmosphere at Minute Maid Park for Houston Astros games is a football atmosphere. In October, despite sometimes gorgeous weather, the retractable roof is always closed at game time, the better to rattle the opposition with eardrum-shredding noise.
However, a mini-controversy arose Monday during workouts on the off day before Tuesday night's Game 3 of the World Series, when word got around the Astros' clubhouse that Major League Baseball will insist the Astros keep the roof open -- providing the weather allows -- when Games 3, 4 and (if necessary) 5 are played here this week against the visiting Chicago White Sox.
"It's our field, and it works for our advantage with the loudness of the crowd," said Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt, who will be on the mound Tuesday night. "I don't think [MLB] should step in and tell us what to do in our field, because it's our home-field advantage now. 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."
"I think it's ridiculous Major League Baseball would stick its nose into this business now that we're down 2-0 in the World Series," said catcher Brad Ausmus. "I'm sure it has something to do with television."
An MLB spokesperson confirmed the league has jurisdiction over the roof issue, and said its insistence on the roof being opened, weather-permitting, is based on the Astros' past practice. The Astros generally close the roof for comfort reasons on days when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees, but otherwise leave it open. Baseball encountered a similar issue in the 2001 World Series in Arizona, where the roof ultimately was opened for all three games.
Forecasts for Tuesday night call for temperatures in the 70s with clear skies. In the regular season, the Astros were 15-11 with the roof open and 36-17 with it closed.
It is their return to Minute Maid Park that has kept the Astros in a positive frame of mind entering Game 3, despite the fact they trail 2-0 in the series following a wrenching loss in Game 2 on a ninth-inning walk-off homer by Chicago's Scott Podsednik.
The Astros tied for the best home record in the National League this season (53-28) and are 8-2 at Minute Maid Park over the past two postseasons. In the 2004 NL Championship Series, the Astros lost Games 1 and 2 to the Cardinals in St. Louis -- just as they did Saturday and Sunday in Chicago -- to return to Houston in an 0-2 hole. But they swept all three home games, sending the series back to St. Louis, where ultimately the Astros lost in Game 7.
"Because of that, we know that even when we drop two [games] on the road, we're capable of coming in here and winning three straight," said Astros closer Brad Lidge, who allowed Podsednik's homer Sunday night. "We have a ton of confidence here. It's a stadium where we have a true home-field advantage."
The White Sox' outfielders spent much of Monday's workout trying to get comfortable with Minute Maid Park's quirky features, which include a short (315-foot) porch in left field, an oddly angled fence in left-center and a steep hill in straightaway center with a flagpole that is in play.
"It's not that big a deal," said Chicago center fielder Aaron Rowand, who has played exhibition games at Minute Maid Park in the past. "You don't run after a fly ball and then say, 'Oh my God, the hill!' You just go after it."
Podsednik's Hallowed Hardwood
Representatives from the Baseball Hall of Fame approached Podsednik after Sunday night's game and requested the bat he had used for the game-winning homer, which will be displayed at the museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Despite a superstitious nature, Podsednik willingly relinquished the bat.
"I wasn't going to keep it from them," he said.
Clemens Still a Go for Game 5
Astros officials had no further update on the status of veteran right-hander Roger Clemens, who was forced out of his Game 1 start after two innings with a strained left hamstring. He received a cortisone shot after that game, and was said to have in considerable soreness on Sunday.
"We have him penciled in [to start] Game 5 right now," Manager Phil Garner said.
Staff writer Jorge Arangure Jr. contributed to this report.