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Astros not looking back to 2005 Series

Astros not looking back to '05 Series

CHICAGO -- This Interleague series is not about the 2005 World Series for the Houston Astros, not when they are at .500, a long, long way from where they want to be.

True, they were swept by the Chicago White Sox last October, and here they are, by the grace of Interleague baseball, visiting the Sox in late June of the following year.

But the World Series replay angle doesn't do much for the Astros. Not now.

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"That doesn't have anything to do with it," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "We look at them just like any other team right now. We need to win. This is the team we need to beat and they're playing well and we're going to need to play good baseball to beat them.

"There's nothing regarding last year. We didn't play well here for a couple of games last year. So we'd like to play better."

That is an understandable urge. But this is the problem: U.S. Cellular Field has not been a place where the visiting team can get well or get revenge or get much of anything besides beaten two out of three. The White Sox are 28-10 at home this season.

So the Astros' U.S. Cellular Field experience didn't improve much on Friday night with a 7-4 loss. White Sox starter Jose Contreras wasn't at his best in this game, but he was a lot more effective than Andy Pettitte. That was enough for Contreras to win a franchise-record 16th straight decision. Contreras hasn't lost since last Aug. 15. The law of averages says that he'll lose again, but the way he has generally pitched and the way the White Sox are scoring runs, that loss might not be soon and it certainly won't be often.

The Astros have been a terrific second-half club the last two seasons, but they were hoping to get a head start this year. Not yet.

"We haven't hit our stride," Garner said. "I don't think we're playing bad, but we're not playing good, either. There's still a lot of good baseball left for us, is the way I'm looking at it. I don't think we've played, by any stretch of the imagination, our best baseball. I'm starting to see some good signs. We're starting to throw the ball a little better. We need to improve our offense a little bit."

The task doesn't get any easier in the immediate future. Interleague Play hasn't been the way for National League teams to turn the corner this year. Going into Friday night, the NL was a forlorn 49-77 against the American League. The White Sox are trouble here, too, going 9-1 against NL opposition. The Astros are 4-6 in Interleague Play and recently lost series at home to both Kansas City and Minnesota. This season, Interleague competition is a bonanza for the AL and an apparent mystery to the NL.

"I don't know; I don't understand," Garner said. "The Cardinals just got swept by these guys, who are just really hot. I don't know if that says anything right now. We dropped two games to Kansas City in our ballpark where we normally play well. By record, they're the worst team in baseball, but they didn't play that way against us. Minnesota's got a nice ballclub and they're starting to play well, but still we should be able to do better.

"I don't know if it's a trend or what. But we'd like to change that. We'd like to do our part to reassert the superiority of the National League."

Again, this is a very worthwhile goal, but difficult to attain. But this is all about now, not last October. Yes, the White Sox rampaged through an 11-1 postseason. But the Astros were a World Series team, too, and now they are treading water a bit. And they are on an Interleague road trip in which they will have to face the AL's two best teams by record, the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers.

So the World Series replay took a backseat to more pressing issues. The only reminder of the World Series in the visitors' clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field was on a wall of the manager's office, which Garner had personally decorated with two photos he had brought with him from Houston.

One picture was of Garner and the manager of the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen, shaking hands at the 2005 World Series. The other picture was of Garner and Guillen hugging at the 2005 World Series.

"A picture is worth a thousand words, isn't it?" Garner said with a small smile.

Yes, Garner had roughly 2,000 words worth of pictures up there on the wall. The pictures were on the wall to dispute earlier allegations by Guillen, allegations now withdrawn, that Garner had refused to shake hands with him during the Series.

That's over and so is the 2005 World Series. The Astros need to beat the White Sox now, not to make up for last October, but because they need to move forward this summer.

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

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