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Easy to leave

Houston bids farewell to the Dome with painful loss

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Posted: Saturday October 09, 1999 09:27 PM

  The Astros hope their new home will bring them better postseason success. AP

HOUSTON (AP) -- Forget about any sentimentality from the Houston Astros about playing for the last time at the Astrodome.

"One of the greatest pleasures I have from all of this series is the fact that we've played our final game in the Astrodome," manager Larry Dierker said Saturday after Atlanta beat Houston 7-5 to win their NL playoff matchup.

Maybe new Enron Field with its inviting grass playing surface will be more hospitable to the Astros. Houston never got past the first round of the playoffs in 35 years at the Dome, and its chance this year was ended in four games by the Braves.

"As the days go by, there is a lot of frustration where we've been the last three years," Dierker said. "We are really looking forward to being at Enron Field."

The Astros packed up for the move to their $250 million retractable roof stadium without remorse. A crowd of 48,553, about 6,000 short of capacity, watched the wrapup at the ballpark called the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened in 1965.

"The Astrodome surface has never been a friend to the players' knees, backs and joints," third baseman Ken Caminiti said. "Also, the ball doesn't have the lift and carry that it does outdoors. I'm looking forward to the grass."

The Astros have won the NL Central three straight years, but have only two playoff victories to show for it. Atlanta swept them 3-0 in 1997 and last year they ran into Kevin Brown and the San Diego Padres and were beaten 3-1.

"Maybe we need to move to the new stadium to do better in the playoffs," first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "I know everybody is excited about the new stadium."

After falling behind 7-0 on Saturday, the Astros rallied and cut the Braves lead to 7-5, but it wasn't enough.

"Possibly, physically it will be a lot better," second baseman Craig Biggio said. "We won't get beat up by the turf so much. It should be exciting for the fans and we might have a little better karma there."

The Astros were twice six outs from reaching the World Series in the 1980 NLCS against Philadelphia. They failed to hold a 2-0 lead in Game 4 and lost 5-3 in 10 innings and in Game 5 they couldn't hold a 5-2 lead and the Phillies advanced to the World Series.

In 1986, the Astros lost a marathon 16-inning game to the New York Mets in Game 6 with the Mets winning 7-6 and denying the Astros once again.

"We haven't had much luck here," Biggio said. "But it hasn't been just our team. The teams in 1980 and 1986 also couldn't do much better."

Although the Astrodome's spacious outfield gave the stadium a reputation as a great place for pitchers, Shane Reynolds sees it another way.

"The Astrodome is not that much of a pitcher's park any more since they moved the fences in and put those flowers up," Reynolds said. "I think the new stadium will be a good experience for us."

Dierker anticipates adjusting his roster to fit the new stadium.

"We don't know what effect the new stadium will have. It's going to be some growing pains, for sure. I figure we'll be halfway through the season getting used to it. I think every team has to consider its own stadium because we play half their games there," he said.

Mike Hampton, Houston's 22-game winner, hopes the Astros get a boost from a change in ballparks.

"Going into a new stadium is always exciting," Hampton said. "Hopefully, we'll be a team that can start off having a World Series there in the new stadium. I certainly don't think it's going to hurt being there."

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