Astros facing 'homefield disadvantage'

Astros facing 'homefield disadvantage'

MILWAUKEE -- The Astros will "host" another "home" game in front of the "hometown fans" at a neutral site -- Miller Park -- on Monday.

The problem is, there is nothing home-ish about this situation, there are no hometown fans and the site is anything but neutral, unless the more than 23,000 Cubbie blue-wearing fans screaming "Let's go Cubbies" Sunday night are secretly Mariners fans.

The Astros made no excuses for their poor offensive performance after being no-hit by Carlos Zambrano, but before the game, they did take note about the unusual surroundings.

"I can't believe our home fans would cheer that lustfully for the Cubs," Lance Berkman barbed.

And those boos he heard when the Astros took the field for the first time?

"I thought they were cheering for Cheo," Berkman said, referring to first base coach Jose Cruz, also known to Astros fans as "Cruuuuuuuuz."

"But then every time the Cubs would do something good, they'd erupt," Berkman said. "I said, 'Wait a minute. Why are our fans cheering for the Cubs?' That was probably the most confusing thing that happened all day."

The homefield disadvantage, however, was no laughing matter. The Astros took exception with how the entire situation was handled, beginning with the decision in the wake of Hurricane Ike to move the games to Milwaukee -- a hop, skip and a jump north of Chicago.

"This is not a home game," manager Cecil Cooper said. "This is definitely advantage Cubs. That's the bottom line."

The Players Union lobbied for the games to played in Atlanta, while several other cities were considered as well. Ultimately, the Commissioner's Office insisted on the games being played under a roof.

"Our preference was Atlanta," Brad Ausmus said. "It was a question that the union brought to them -- why not Atlanta? [Turner Field] was open Sunday and Monday. The first response was 'We're uncertain of the weather.' They felt in a domed stadium, you're guaranteed to play at least two games."

True, but as a "neutral" site, Miller Park is anything but. More than 23,000 showed up for Sunday's game. Loosely estimated, 22,997 were Cubs fans.

"This is the next best thing to playing in Chicago for the Cubs," Ausmus said. "I think that should be considered when you're talking about competitive integrity and a neutral site."

In Berkman's estimation, the games "might as well be played at Wrigley Field."

"We come all the way up here to play in their backyard," he said. "More than anything else, I think Major League Baseball could have done a lot better job of their locale than they picked to go have us play."

Finances, Berkman suspects, had a hand in the decision-making. Could the Astros and Cubs draw nearly 25,000 in Atlanta?

"Obviously, when you're dealing with baseball there's a money factor involved," he said. "It's not that I don't understand that. I know the owners are trying to make money and that's what they're in this business for. Certainly, there's going to be a much better gate here than there would be in more of a neutral site. I think that had something to do with it."

Pitching matchup
HOU: RHP Brian Moehler (11-6, 4.16 ERA)
The right-hander earned his 11th win of the year in his previous start, holding the Pirates to two runs over six innings. Moehler is 6-2 with a 4.02 ERA over 11 starts since the All-Star break.

CHC: LHP Ted Lilly (14-9, 4.29 ERA)
Lilly is coming off a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in his last start. The lefty threw eight innings, gave up one run on five hits and struck out five. He matched his season high in innings pitched. One more win, and Lilly will match his personal high of 15, set the last two years. He's 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA in five starts against the Astros.

Ty Wigginton, recovering from a strained groin muscle, is available to pinch-hit and he hopes to return to the field sometime during the road trip.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN-HD, CSN (Español)

On radio
• KTRH 740, KLAT 1010 (Español)

Up next
• Tuesday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 15-9, 3.54) at Marlins (Chris Volstad, 4-3, 3.31), 6:10 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Astros (TBD) at Marlins (Ricky Nolasco, 14-7, 3.56), 6:10 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Astros (Alberto Arias, 1-0, 1.93) at Marlins (Scott Olsen, 7-10, 4.31), 6:10 p.m. CT

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