Minute Maid's roof eclipses sun in both Games 3, 4

Monday, October 18, 2004

HOUSTON -- Despite sunny skies, it was a closed issue at Minute Maid Park -- the retractable roof was shut for Games 3 and 4 of the NL championship series.

The plan is to keep it open, however, on Monday night for Game 5 between the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros.

Managers Tony La Russa of St. Louis and Phil Garner of Houston, team executives and television officials were consulted about the decision. Astros owner Drayton McLane was worried about temperatures in the 80s affecting fans while TV was concerned about shadows.

"We didn't want it to affect the play," said Bob Watson, baseball's vice president of on-field operations.

Some players believe the ball flies farther when the roof is open.

In 2002, the Arizona Diamondbacks let starting pitchers decide what to do with the retractable roof at Bank One Ballpark, a decision made after Curt Schilling was sure he gave up more long balls with it open. The policy was rolled back after fans complained.


PROWLING PITCHER: Just because St. Louis' Jason Marquis got the most hits of any pitcher in baseball this season, that doesn't mean he's the best baserunner.

Marquis unsuccessfully tried stretching a single into a double in the fourth inning. It was a bad move because the ball was in short right field. So even though Houston's Lance Berkman was taking his time, he was still able to speed up and throw out Marquis at second base.

"I saw Lance with his head down, not looking up," Marquis said. "The ball bobbled in his glove and I thought I could make it. It was just good, aggressive baserunning."

Berkman saw what was happening, just in time.

"Maybe he was just trying to catch me napping out there, but I'm glad it worked out," Berkman said.

Marquis had 21 hits this season, batting .292, and his nine RBIs were second best.


BANGED-UP KENT: The bruises keep adding up for Jeff Kent.

The Astros' second baseman was hit by a ball again on Sunday, this time by St. Louis reliever Julian Tavarez during his seventh-inning meltdown.

Tavarez's pitch hit Kent on the inside of his lower left leg, loading the bases for the Astros. The sellout crowd booed Tavarez, and a few Astros moved to the top step of the dugout anticipating Kent's reaction -- Tavarez had thrown at Jeff Bagwell's head earlier in the inning.

Kent didn't appear to be hurt by the pitch and calmly jogged to first base.

"That's typical," Kent said after the game. "I'm getting poured on right now."

Kent was hit by a ball in almost the same spot in Game 1 of the NLCS after a foul tip. He dropped to the ground in pain after that one, and was taken out of the game for defensive purposes an inning later.

Kent played the next day despite a foot so swollen Houston manager Phil Garner briefly considered leaving him out of the lineup.

Kent showed no signs of discomfort from the latest bruise and didn't even bother icing it down.


LA RUSSA'S MOVES: St. Louis manager Tony La Russa shook up the batting order for Game 4, trying to get some production out of the bottom of his lineup.

He did, but it wasn't enough to beat the Astros.

John Mabry, batting seventh in place of Reggie Sanders, produced the first RBI this series from the Nos. 6-9 starters with a two-out single in the first inning.

In the fifth, fill-in catcher Yadier Molina contributed with his arm, throwing out Craig Biggio trying to steal second base.

Mabry and Molina went a combined 2-for-7. Sanders and regular catcher Mike Matheny were 3-for-20 over the first three games.

Shortstop Edgar Renteria held onto his No. 6 spot, but went 0-for-3 and fell to 1-for-14 this series. He was replaced by Hector Luna on a double switch in the bottom of the seventh.

One of the reasons La Russa changed his starting lineup was to get two more left-handed bats against Houston right-handed starter Roy Oswalt. Sanders and Matheny both hit from the right side.

It also helped that Mabry came in 2-for-5 against Oswalt, compared to Sanders' 2-for-9.

Another reason La Russa went with Molina was to give Matheny a break. Until Sunday, he caught every inning of the playoffs.

"We put so much on our catchers," La Russa said. "I think it's something we've done quite a bit during the year just to keep Mike fresh. He'll be back out there tomorrow."

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