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Notes: Burke mania sweeps Houston

Notes: Burke mania sweeps Houston

HOUSTON -- Chris Burke mania has officially swept through the city of Houston. It certainly has swept through the Houston Astros clubhouse, the site of the Chris Burke media hour. Burke's locker, formerly a place of quiet refuge, is now the most sought after spot for reporters to get quotes for the "big" story of the day.

But that's just a small indication of how quickly Burke has burst onto the scene. Media attention is one thing. Fan adoration is quite another, and it's safe to assume he'll receive a loud -- maybe even the loudest -- ovation during pregame introductions prior to Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

"I wonder if he'll get a bigger ovation than [Roger] Clemens," manager Phil Garner mused.

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Burke's celebrity status happened overnight, but that's what happens when any player, let alone a part-time player, hits an 18th-inning walk-off homer to win a postseason series.

It also didn't hurt that Burke hit a two-run homer in Game 1 of the NLCS in St. Louis and was part of two runs during the Astros' win the next night.

But that was on enemy territory.

"Burke's probably going to get a standing 'O' for sure, and deservedly so," Brad Lidge said. "He's been unbelievable."

Eric Bruntlett can relate to Burke's situation. The utility infielder/outfielder hit a game-winning three-run homer in the 14th inning of the Astros' 4-1 win over the Nationals on July 24, and the next night at Minute Maid Park, he received a thunderous ovation when he pinch-hit late in the game.

"It's pretty cool when that happens," Bruntlett said. "You're not really expecting it. I wasn't expecting it at all. I didn't know if [the fans] cared who I am, or what. It gives you the satisfaction that you're doing something, that someone's taking notice, anyway."

Jeff Bagwell has enjoyed watching the Burke scene unfold from the dugout, but he laughingly said he is grateful that Bruntlett wears the uniform No. 4. That means when the players are introduced, Bruntlett will be in between Burke (No. 2) and Bagwell (No. 5).

Apparently, Bagwell has it in his head that he'll receive a polite golf clap after Burke's rock-star reception.

"I said, 'I'm glad Bruntlett is between the two of us,'" Bagwell said. "That way, the applause can die down a little bit and maybe I can get some, too."

The paranoia is feigned, of course. No one is happier about Burke's recent accomplishments than Bagwell.

"I'm excited for him," Bagwell said. "This whole season, we've had things like that. Bruntlett was doing it for three or four games and Burkie's doing it now on a big stage. Brad [Ausmus] hits the home run to tie [Game 4] ... it's what good teams have to have. You have to have different guys in different situations."

Lights out: Lidge can't explain his successful run against the Cardinals, except to say pitching against the best lineup in the league brings out the best in him.

"Their lineup is such that when you're going in the game against them, you know that you have to be perfect, or otherwise they're going to burn you," he said. "It brings out the best of you sometimes when your concentration's at such a high level. I know what their hitters can do, I know what they're capable of, so I feel like I have to rise to the occasion."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa joked that he wished Lidge didn't have so much respect for his lineup.

"That's like good news, bad news," La Russa said. "I wish he would think we were not as good, so he would back off a little bit."

In Lidge's five playoff appearances against St. Louis dating back to last year, the Cardinals have one hit in 10 innings. During the regular season this year, Lidge held the Cardinals scoreless over 7 1/3 innings en route to four of his 42 saves.

What's next, a Whitesnake reunion? What in the name of Jeff Kent would the Astros have done if they returned from St. Louis in an 0-2 hole in the best-of-seven NLCS?

According to Ausmus, the answer was simple: Shave. But just a little.

"Before yesterday's game, we had a pact among the bearded players that if we went down 0-2, we would shave the beards and just keep the moustache," Ausmus said.

Think Garner, Alan Ashby and Glenn Davis, circa 1986. Or Kent, circa ... well, 2004.

No wonder the Astros were so giddy after Thursday's 4-1 win.

"After the game, if you had asked those same players what they were happier about, winning or not having to have the moustache, I think it would have been a split, 50-50," Ausmus said.

The roof: What would a playoff game be without chatter about the status of the Minute Maid Park roof?

The Astros opted to keep the roof closed during the two Division Series games in Houston last weekend, and it looks like they're leaning toward the same for the NLCS. Temperatures are expected to climb to the upper 80s on Saturday and Sunday, and considering both are afternoon games, it's likely the lid will stay shut.

The decision is usually made by general manager Tim Purpura and club president Pam Gardner, who also consider the input of the manager and coaches.

It's no secret that those in uniform prefer to play under the controlled conditions that accompany indoor baseball.

"You close the roof, you get a lot of continuity with the conditions," Purpura said. "You don't have issues that come up that could affect you. There's a comfort level that our players have. We play with it closed most of the time, anyway. Players are creatures of habit -- you don't want to start changing things dramatically once you get in the playoffs."

Minor news: Right-handed pitchers Brandon Duckworth, Travis Driskill and Scott Strickland, all of whom were outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock last week, have elected to become free agents.

Left-hander Carlos Hernandez was outrighted to Round Rock on Friday, and he will become a six-year Minor League free agent on Saturday.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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