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Even series moves to Houston
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10/07/2004 10:48 PM ET
Even series moves to Houston
Astros return home, where they have won 18 straight
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Houston starter Brandon Backe filled in for an ailing Roger Clemens last Sunday and earned the win that clinched the Wild Card berth. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

ATLANTA -- After getting out of Atlanta with a split, Phil Garner and the Houston Astros are looking forward to resuming the National League Division Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

"Absolutely, you better believe we're looking forward to going home," Garner said. "Wouldn't you be glad to go home to a park where you've played as well as we have? It's been a good place for us lately and hopefully it will stay that way."

The Astros, tied at a game apiece with the Braves, will send right-hander Brandon Backe to the mound against Atlanta's John Thomson. The game has been sold out for days as Houston has been buzzing over the Astros, who have won 18 consecutive home games.

"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," Garner said.

Thomson, who was hit on the foot by a line drive in his last regular-season start, expects to be ready to go on Saturday.

   John Thomson  /   P
Born: 10/01/73
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

"John Thomson threw, looked good again today," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said Thursday. "He'll be out there on Saturday."

So will approximately 45,000 fans, most of them wearing Astros colors and making plenty of noise.

"We'll take every advantage we can get," Houston right fielder Lance Berkman said. "The crowds have really given us a boost this year and hopefully it'll be the same this weekend."

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.

"I think you'll see the same type of tight games we had here," Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "These are two good teams that are leaving it all out on the field. They want to win as much as we do and I think it's going to be a hard battle right up until the end."

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.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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