A Roy of hope for Astros in Game 3

Astros look for Oswalt to again answer the call

HOUSTON -- If you had to pick one game of the first three World Series games that the Houston Astros were most likely to win, you would pick the one that was going to be started by Roy Oswalt.

This should be a particularly comforting thought for the Astros and their supporters because, after two straight losses to the Chicago White Sox, Game 3 on Tuesday night will be Oswalt's turn to pitch.

It is also the Astros' turn to be at home, which will be another comforting concept, in more ways than one. Including the postseason, the Astros are 57-29 at home this year. The fans will be friendlier here. The climate will be friendlier, whether or not the retractable roof at Minute Maid Park is closed.

"I don't care if the roof is opened or closed," Lance Berkman said. "As long as we can get out of this miserable weather, I don't care."

Perhaps the Chicago climate was "miserable" from the Texas perspective. From the Illinois perspective, it was about what you could expect at this time of the year, minus a degree here or there. There is no right or wrong here, just a team from a blue state playing a team from a red state.

The Astros will now return home to an environment where the climate is controlled whenever it has to be controlled, which is fairly often. The Astros haven't played a home game with the roof open since May. Whether the roof is open, closed, or just slightly ajar, the climate will be more hospitable for the Astros than it was on Chicago's South Side.

But the real comfort should come with the knowledge that Oswalt will be on the hill. How can it be said that his presence on the mound will be more comforting than that of Roger Clemens or Andy Pettitte? Because Oswalt recently has been the best Houston starter. In fact, recently, he has been as good as anybody in baseball.

Oswalt is the only pitcher who has won 20 games in each of the last two years. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately category, he was the MVP of the NL Championship Series, beating the imposing St. Louis Cardinals twice.

Clemens left his Game 1 start after two innings with a left hamstring strain. His status is day-to-day, with the Astros still saying that they have him "penciled in" for a Game 5 start. Pettitte pitched well enough to win in Game 2, but the Houston bullpen could not hold a 4-2 lead, and then could not hold a 6-6 tie.

Roy Oswalt is now the key to the Astros' hopes of climbing back into this Series. As keys go, they're in very good hands.

Jon Garland, the White Sox Game 3 starter, was asked Monday if he had seen any of Oswalt's starts.

"I don't need to see any of his starts," said Garland. "I hear what the hitters say about him. That's enough for me. [They say] that he's got some of the dirtiest stuff they've ever seen. The guy is a great pitcher, he goes out and competes, he wants to win. There's nothing that holds him back when he's on the mound, he brings it all."

Ah, Garland. The White Sox aren't exactly sending a lamb to the slaughter here. Garland had a breakthrough season for Chicago, winning 18 games. He did not get to start in the Division Series because he was the scheduled Game 4 starter, but the White Sox swept Boston in three games.

Garland hadn't pitched in 13 days when he got a start in the AL Championship Series, but as usual, the "rust" concerns were misplaced. Garland made up for lost time in the ALCS, pitching a Game 3 gem against the Angels; two runs, four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts. It was the second in the Sox series of four straight complete games and it gave the Sox a series lead that they never relinquished.

Here, Garland will have had 10 days between starts. The relevant question seems to be: So what?

"I take it in stride," Garland said. "It's one of those things you have to deal with, you have to overcome."

If Garland produces a performance anything like the one he had against the Angels, it will be up to Oswalt to respond in kind and turn the tide for the Astros. Oswalt has been pitching a series of truly big games and he was asked Monday if this next start was the most important of all.

"It's the biggest game tomorrow on TV, for sure," Oswalt said.

All those quality pitches, all that bulldog tenacity, and he's droll, too. The Astros will once again be depending on Oswalt, but relying on Roy has been a route to the top so far.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.