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Small ball looms large for Astros10/08/2004 9:01 PM ET
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros dig the long ball. But if they are going to finally win a postseason series, they know they need to play some small ball, too.
Jeff Bagwell and Raul Chavez pounded solo home runs before the end of the third inning Thursday, giving the Astros six home runs in the first 12 innings of their National League Division Series against the Braves.
In those first 12 innings, the team hit more homers than it had in any of its previous seven postseason series. With the series headed back to Houston tied, 1-1, Astros hitters will get at least two more games to go deep in cozy Minute Maid Park.
"It's not just home runs that we need," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "When we can, we like to take advantage. We'll run. We have hit-and-run on many occasions down this stretch."
"We like the home runs, obviously," Garner said. "I'd just as soon have three-run home runs every inning. That would be nice."
He's still waiting for that three-run shot.
Four of the six home runs have come with the bases empty, two have been two-run shots and all have come from six different Astros. Five of those players had never homered in the playoffs.
Bagwell had to wait the longest; he has 446 career regular-season home runs, but had gone 51 Division Series at-bats without hitting one out. But that changed in the first inning on Thursday, when he poked a Mike Hampton pitch the opposite way for a 1-0 Astros lead.
"It doesn't do anything for me," Bagwell said. "It was nice at the time because it put us up 1-0. I've said all along that this isn't about Jeff Bagwell. This is about finding ways to win. If I go 0-for-4 tomorrow, strike out four times, and we win, I'm OK with that. I just want to win."
Three of the Astros' sluggers in this series did not have to wait at all. Carlos Beltran went deep on Wednesday evening in the third postseason at-bat of his career, and Jason Lane and Chavez did even better, going deep in their first postseason plate appearances.
"Does that mean you hit one an inning?" Astros owner Drayton McLane asked Lane after Houston's Game 1 win. "Thank you! I'm proud of you!"
Before this year, only six players had ever homered in their first postseason at-bats; three have done it this season. Besides Chavez and Lane, the Dodgers' Tom Wilson accomplished the feat in the Los Angeles-St. Louis Division Series matchup.
"I try to not get too worked up about it," said Lane. "If you do, you put extra pressure on yourself. I tried to take the same approach I did during the last week of the [regular] season."
According to Chavez, the pressure of the Major League playoffs pales in comparison to what he experiences each winter. Chavez plays for Magallanes in the Venezuelan League, where tension runs high.
"There's more pressure," said Chavez, who hails from Valenicia, Venezuela. "The best two teams in Venezuela are Magallanes and Caracas. It's more exciting, there's more pressure. The fans get crazy. They're up the whole game, not just when there is a home run."
Fans will get up for Astros home runs at Minute Maid Park this weekend. The Astros hit 96 home runs at home this season versus 91 on the road.
Minute Maid Park ranked as the fifth most homer-friendly stadium in the National League this season behind Turner Field (Atlanta), Wrigley Field (Chicago), Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati) and Miller Park (Milwaukee).
"We don't have to hit home runs to win," Bagwell said. "We've got a bunch of good hitters who can spray the ball around the field. We've got some guys who can run the bases. It's nice to hit home runs, two- and three-run homers especially, but the teams we're playing don't give up too many home runs. We have to worry about moving guys over and getting guys in."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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