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Astros benefit from ground rules
10/10/2004 2:31 PM ET
HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros got an assist from their ballpark during Sunday's National League Division Series game. Specifically, the Minute Maid Park roof helped out the Astros against the Atlanta Braves.

With two on and two out in the second inning, Houston's Craig Biggio popped up a 2-0 pitch near third base. The ball struck a ceiling beam and was caught in fair territory by Atlanta pitcher Russ Ortiz. Under Houston ground rules, however, if the ball hits the roof in foul territory it is a dead ball, so Ortiz's catch was not the third out of the inning.

That proved to be a huge break for the Astros, as two pitches later Biggio belted an Ortiz fastball into the left-field seats for a three-run homer to spark a five-run rally by Houston.

"Chipper [Jones] was camped under it," Ortiz said. "It was going to be the third out. As soon as it hit the rafter, I just realized it was coming back toward my way. I just did the best I could to get over there. It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.

"After I caught it, I was pretty excited because I thought it was the third out. Then I found out it wasn't. I was thinking, 'Oh man, Chipper was camped under it.' It would have been nice [the out]. But that's just the rules of the rafter, I guess."

Biggio was just as relieved that he'd gotten a break on that at-bat.

"I was just begging that it hit it. I knew where that rafter was. It's happened a couple of times this year," Biggio said. "I got a second life there and I was able to come through, but there was a long way to go after that."

It was the second time in as many days and third time this season a ball hitting the roof impacted a game. During Game 3, Atlanta's J.D. Drew hit the roof in fair territory and the ball fell for an infield single. Drew later scored on Andruw Jones' three-run homer.

On May 29, during a 10-3 Houston loss to St. Louis, Ray Lankford of the Cardinals hit a high pop fly toward the right side of the field. Astros second baseman Jeff Kent and first baseman Jeff Bagwell stood on the right side of the foul line behind first base preparing to make a play. The ball hit the roof and landed a foot or so in fair territory as a run scored.

A lengthy discussion took place between the umpires crew and Kent, Bagwell and former manager Jimy Williams -- who were adamant that the ball hit the roof in foul territory, which, according to the rules of the ballpark, would mean the play was dead. If the ball hits the roof in fair territory, then the ball is in play.

If no one actually sees where the ball hits the roof it becomes a judgment call. And the judgment of the umpiring crew was the ball, that day, went upward in fair territory and most likely stayed there.

"There are no lines or demarcation up there whatsoever for fair or foul," home plate umpire and crew chief Bruce Froemming said following the May 29 game. "We had to go on our gut instinct where we saw the ball. I told [first base umpire] Mike [Winters], the last time I saw the ball, it was fair. When it got up in those pipes and everything else ... that roof is 20 floors high. Twenty floors. We did the best we could in that situation, and we ruled it fair. That's where we went."

Winters eventually ejected Williams, who was let go by Houston during the All-Star break.

This time things worked out in Houston's favor.

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

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