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Astros can close it out10/09/2004 7:35 PM ET
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The stage is set. Now it's up to the Houston Astros to see if they can go where no Houston team has gone before -- advance out of the first round of the playoffs.
The Astros lead the Braves, 2-1, in the best-of-five National League Division Series and can clinch a berth in the NLCS with a win on Sunday. Roger Clemens will start on three days' rest for the Astros, while the Braves will go with Russ Ortiz in the 12:09 CT game at Minute Maid Park.
Houston has never won a playoff series since the franchise began play in 1962.
"Why not us?" Astros second baseman Jeff Kent said. "If you're not going to believe, if you're not going to have faith, go watch football."
The Astros are a confident bunch after beating the Braves, 8-5, on Saturday afternoon, but they are taking nothing for granted and certainly not looking past Sunday's game.
"We've got a lot of hard work to do still," Kent said. "Baseball is a funny game. It will kill you one day and the next day it will take you to the clouds."
Several players cited Game 2, when the Astros were six outs away from a 2-1 victory before losing 4-2 in 11 innings, as ample reason to stay focused.
"If you take the Braves for granted here, you're going to get your butt kicked," Kent said. "If you go around thinking you have the momentum on your side, you're going to get beat."
"These players, they believe in each other, they believe that we can win," Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "[Saturday's] a nice win, it's great, everybody should be happy, but we've got more work to do.
"I'm happy where we are and I'm proud of this team, but we've got a tough Braves team to play. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, because the Braves are not going to go away."
The NL East champions need to win Sunday to stave off elimination. A Braves win would send the series back to Atlanta for Game 5 on Monday at Turner Field.
The Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in the Braves' lineup -- J.D. Drew and Chipper Jones -- are a combined 2-for-23 in the series.
"We need to jump out in the lead ourself, get the big boys in the middle of the lineup to hit a little bit, and we'll be just fine," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
"This thing is far from over. We won two games in a row plenty of times this year," Braves second baseman Marcus Giles said. "We'll see what we can do tomorrow. We can't win the second one, unless we win the first one."
That won't be easy. Houston has won 19 consecutive games at Minute Maid Park.
"We just have to go out and do it," Braves catcher Johnny Estrada said. "There's no reason to worry about it or talk about it. We just have to go out and play within ourselves. That's what got us here."
"Tomorrow will be a great game," Astros center fielder Carlos Beltran said. "We have the guy we want to have on the mound, Roger Clemens. But we've still got to go out there and back him up and try to beat those guys."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.