Starters focal point of critical Game 4

Backe tries to prolong season

HOUSTON -- There are three things we know for sure about Wednesday's Game 4 of the 2005 World Series.

• Brandon Backe of the Houston Astros is going to have to be less like a fourth starter and more like a savior, for his club to stay alive in this Series. The Astros, for all their gumption and grit, have not displayed much in the way of timely hitting over the first three games. "That's some pretty poor hitting, absolutely rotten hitting," manager Phil Garner said after the bitterly disappointing Game 3 loss.

• Both Backe and the Chicago White Sox starter, Freddy Garcia, would be doing their clubs huge favors if they could pitch not only well, but well into the game. After the 14-inning, 5-hour, 41-minute marathon that ended Wednesday morning, the bullpens are not exactly suffering from under-usage.

• Unless a meteorological crisis occurs, along the lines of a hurricane or Houston suddenly turning into a national cold spot like International Falls, Minn., the roof at Minute Maid Park will be open.

The great roof debate was one of the real non-controversial controversies of our times. The Astros have had the roof closed for the vast majority of their games this season. But then, Houston is a hot and humid place in most of the months in which baseball is played. Major League Baseball officials had a forecast for Tuesday night that indicated the game-time temperature would be 68 degrees and that the temperature would not fall beneath 60 degrees during the course of the game.

"With all due respect," Commissioner of baseball Bud Selig said, "the city that I come from [Milwaukee], you're lucky to get that on July 4th. If that isn't fan-friendly weather, I don't know what is."

It is all relative, isn't it? One man's perfectly pleasant can be another man's brrrrrr. For those of us who sat outside for all 5 hours and 41 minutes at Minute Maid Park, the conditions were all right, until about 1 a.m. (One thing that MLB could not have predicted was that the game was going to be the longest in World Series history.) After 1 a.m., you could have used a closed roof, and a log on the fire, for that matter.

Despite the local protests, the Astros did not lose this game because the roof was open. They lost because they didn't generate enough offense and because they had the single-worst pitching performance of the night, from Ezequiel Astacio. And, of course, because the White Sox have won 15 of their last 16 and are playing about as well as anybody on the planet can play in October.

Backe now will be asked to turn this situation around and keep the Series alive in Houston for at least another day. He is coming off a superior start in the National League Championship Series -- one run given up in 5 2/3 innings. He's originally from Galveston, so he's used to having the eyes of Texas upon him. When it was suggested to Backe that being from this area might be a reason for more pressure, he turned the question on its head.

"I don't think there's any extra pressure at all, to tell you the truth," Backe said. "I think it's that much more relaxing, to tell you the truth, because we're in our hometowns. We've got our families and friends in the stands or at home watching us, rooting us on. I love being here."

To his credit, Backe also refused to get involved in the roof debate.

"I don't think there's any difference, to tell you the truth," Backe said. "Regardless in this park, roof open or roof closed, you have to keep the ball down. I don't think the roof being open is going to make the ball go any higher."

His mound opponent, Garcia, meanwhile, may be technically the fourth starter in the Sox playoff rotation, but he's 5-1 lifetime in the postseason. That record includes two victories this month: a victory over Boston in the American League Division Series and a nifty complete game over the Angels in the AL Championship Series.

It is all uphill for the Astros, but they've been in that situation before. Still, they will need a strong performance from Backe or an offensive awakening to keep their hopes, and this Series, alive.

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