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Notes: Garner not looking ahead
10/10/2004 1:32 PM ET
HOUSTON -- You have to hand it to the Houston Astros -- the starting rotation they've used in the first round of the playoffs has been not only effective, but interesting, too.

After all, it's not often that a playoff team relies on two aces and a handful of unproven pitchers to carry it through an unprecedented home winning streak and two wins in the first three games of the Division Series.

But the Astros entered Sunday's Game 4 with a 2-1 lead in the Divison Series and the very real possibility that they may advance to the National League Championship Series. And that would likely mean having to add a starter to the rotation of Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Brandon Backe.

Manager Phil Garner will have to weigh his options, which include possibly inserting right-hander Pete Munro into the rotation. But that could be problematic, considering Munro hasn't pitched since Oct. 1 and lasted only 2 2/3 innings in that start.

Garner will not think about what he's going to do in the National League Championship Series until the Divison Series is over.

"I have absolutely not thought about the next round," Garner said. "I'm thinking about today. I allowed myself to think about [Monday] just long enough to say that Roy [Oswalt] is going to pitch [Game 5]. We're going to focus on today's game and take it like we have been for the last couple of months, like it's the last game we'll ever play."

On next year: Even though Carlos Beltran has not said one way or another whether he wants to sign a longterm contract with the Astros, he is grateful to have had the opportunity to play in the National League. As a career American Leaguer, Beltran will be open to listening to offers from NL teams now that he has been exposed to teams in the Senior Circuit.

"All of my career, I played in the American League," said Beltran, a former Kansas City Royal. "Next year, I'll be a free agent, and it was going to be difficult for me to consider a team from the National League, because even if it's the same team, you feel like, 'Oh, man, it's the National League.'"

Now that he's comfortable playing in either league, Houston will be on the list of teams Beltran will consider for the future.

"I really have to say that I feel happy here in Houston," he said. "There's a lot of guys you really want to be around. I really want to be around [Roger] Clemens, [Jeff] Bagwell, [Craig] Biggio. I have learned a lot from those guys and it's really helping me a lot."

Two-out hits: One of the keys to the Astros' first two wins in the Division Series were the clutch, two-out, two-strike hits that often eluded this club throughout the summer months.

   Morgan Ensberg  /   3B
Born: 08/26/75
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Morgan Ensberg, who hit .353 (12-for-34) in September and the final regular-season series in October, was a key to the offense on Saturday. He went 3-for-4, and his two-run double with two outs in the sixth gave the Astros a 7-2 lead.

"I think that's something we've been doing for the last month and a half," Ensberg said. "Our back has been against the wall for six months. I think you saw guys doing a better job of having a better idea, trying to fight, trying to scratch, foul off a pitch, hope that the pitcher misses, drive a ball."

Lima time: Considering baseball people are, by nature, night owls, taking batting practice at 9:30 in the morning seems almost sacrilegious.

But that's what the Astros and Braves have done for the last two games, to prepare for noon CT start times dictated by television.

The only chance the Astros and Braves had at playing a night game Sunday was if the Cardinals had beaten the Dodgers on Saturday to sweep the Division Series. That would have left Houston and Atlanta as the only series not yet decided, and the game would have been moved to 6:30 p.m. CT.

But former Astros hurler Jose Lima pitched a five-hit shutout for the Dodgers to send the series to a fourth game, to be shown Sunday evening, which meant another early day for the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

"I prefer to play tonight as opposed to a noon game, but I watched the game and I enjoyed watching the game," Garner said. "I tip my hat to Jose Lima. I had him in Detroit. He's a fun guy. It was nice to see him have a good game."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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