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Series shifts to Houston for Game 310/08/2004 8:58 PM ET
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros have been spreading pennant fever all over this town. On Saturday the Astros, who host Atlanta in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Minute Maid Park, are hoping to spread some more.
The Astros, tied at a game apiece with the Braves, have won 18 consecutive home games and will be seeking to continue their home-field magic with a little help from their fans.
Houston will send right-hander Brandon Backe to the mound against Atlanta's John Thomson. The game has been sold out for days and a standing-room-only crowd of roughly 45,000 is expected. The downtown area Friday was dotted with locals wearing their Astros colors.
The National Football League's Houston Texans are hosting the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and the National Basketball Association's Houston Rockets and new star Tracy McGrady are kicking off their preseason this weekend. But everywhere you turn, the talk is the Astros.
"The place will be rocking," Backe said. "The crowds have been great, and lately the fans have really been into it. It really has been a playoff atmosphere for a while now, and I think it will be even better for this series."
Backe filled in for an ailing Roger Clemens last Sunday and responded with a victory over Colorado that clinched the Wild Card berth for the Astros.
"He really came through for us and has earned another shot," Astros manager Phil Garner said.
Thomson, who suffered a strained side muscle in his last regular-season start, is ready to try and stop the streaking 'Stros.
"Well, as they say, streaks are made to be broken, right?" Thomson said. "So that's what I'm kind of looking for going into tomorrow night, going out tomorrow afternoon, 12 o'clock.
"Just going out there, not worrying about what they've done in the past. Because I've heard over the last, you know, two or three days that postseason is basically a different season. So the regular season, sometimes it carries over, sometimes it doesn't. Hopefully, tomorrow it's not going to carry over for them in their home ballpark."
Several Astros are anticipating an even louder setting than they had at the Wild Card-clinching win.
"It's a huge game tomorrow," Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "Luckily, we don't have too much time to think about it because it's at 12 o'clock. The way the fans have reacted, the way we've played here the last 18 games and the excitement in this city, those are great things to have, and hopefully it will help us on the field."
Astros outfielder Jason Lane has played in minor league championship games and the College World Series.
"But none of those compare, they were nothing like this," Lane said. "It's just a matter of controlling your emotions and not let the stage get the most of you."
Houston's success here has not gone unnoticed by the Braves.
"You want to get on them early and keep the crowd out of it if you can," Braves second baseman Marcus Giles said. "You always want to get an early lead, but on the road it's even more important."
Houston won Game 1, 9-3, before the Braves rallied to win Game 2, 4-2, in 11 innings. Both teams won games having to come from behind.
The Braves won the only playoff games they've played at Minute Maid Park, beating Houston, 7-4, in Game 1 of the 2001 NLDS and 1-0 in Game 2. Every pitcher who worked in that series for Houston is either injured or has moved on. Closer John Smoltz is the only Brave still pitching for Atlanta who saw duty in that series.
"These are two different teams," Bagwell said. "What happened then has nothing to do with this time. This is another situation entirely. We didn't play as well at home then as we have this year."
First pitch is scheduled for 1:09 p.m. ET.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.