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Notes: Astros underdogs yet again
10/13/2004 8:39 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- The Houston Astros don't want to hear that they are the underdogs of the National League Championship Series.

Well, actually, they don't mind that part. Just don't tell them they have no chance to beat the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Astros have been both the favorites and the underdogs in the five years they've been to the playoffs since 1997. In '97, they were the underdogs going into the Division Series against the Braves. In '98, they won 102 games during the regular season and were the hands-on favorites entering their series with the Padres.

In both instances they lost in the first round, as they did in '99 and 2001.

In past years, the Astros were expected to advance in the playoffs. This year, nobody even thought the Astros would get to the postseason, let alone win there. That may make it easier for them to sneak up on the Cardinals, who won 105 games during the regular season.

"Very rarely do we go into a series as the favorites," general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "I'd rather be under the radar screen than over it. It's fine with me. It makes it that much sweeter when you win."

"We want people to think that they're going to win the series," Carlos Beltran said. "That's good. It takes pressure off of us. We just want to play the game right, do our thing and try to beat those guys."

In some ways, the Cardinals are under more pressure to produce. They had the division title all but wrapped up a few weeks after the All-Star break. With the talent they have and the season they enjoyed, anything short of a World Series would be considered a letdown.

The 2004 Astros are in a different situation. They struggled so much for three months this year that it's surprising that they're playing in October.

"I think we've been an underdog ever since we had all the injuries and the way we played in the middle of the season," Craig Biggio said. "The one thing you can't take away is the heart and desire of the guys that are in here. The '98 team was probably the most frustrating of all of the years, and this is probably the most gratifying."

Market share: Advice to non-cable fans outside of the St. Louis, Chicago and Houston metropolitan areas: Head to your local sports bar if you want to watch Game 1 of the NLCS. If you're anywhere but those three regions, you're getting Game 2 of the ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees from your local television affiliate.

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The two managers of the NLCS between the Astros and Cardinals didn't find the scheduling to be offensive in the least bit. Heck, even Tony La Russa, given a choice between going to a movie on Tuesday or watching Game 1 of the ALCS, picked the latter.

"That's a great series," he said. "This game [at Busch] counts, too, and we'll have 50,000 people here watching it."

Said Garner: "I like watching the Yankees and Red Sox play. For goodness sakes, it's a great rivalry. But this is going to be a good series, too, and I suspect there's going to be a lot of people tuned into the Yankees, and they're going to see what scores are coming from this series.

"They're going to hear what's going on, and there's going to be a lot of people who start watching our series. It has a chance to be a fantastic series."

Tribute: The Astros have plans to honor former third baseman Ken Caminiti prior to Game 3 of the NLCS at Minute Maid Park.

The club is preparing a video tribute that will show various highlights of Caminiti's Astros career, which spanned from 1987-94 and 1999-2000. The Astros will also conduct a moment of silence, in rememberence of Caminiti, who passed away Sunday from an apparent heart attack at the age of 41.

The Astros are also attempting to work out a design in Halliburton Plaza that would honor Caminiti. One idea was to light up an area with Caminiti's uniform number 11 near the Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio statues that sit in the middle of the plaza.

Here and there: Before Wednesday's game, Garner confirmed that Roger Clemens will pitch Game 3 on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, followed by Roy Oswalt on Sunday. Both will be pitching on five days' rest, instead of the normal four. Brandon Backe, the Game 1 starter, will likely pitch Game 5, although that is not yet official. ... Beltran, who homered in his first NLCS at-bat Wednesday, tied a Division Series record with nine runs scored. He tied Ken Griffey Jr., who scored nine runs in the 1995 ALDS. ... The perennially energetic Garner arrived to Busch Stadium around 12:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday, nearly seven hours before game time. "My wife said if I didn't go to the ballpark, she was going to hit me with something," Garner quipped.

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

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