Houston (83-67) at San Francisco (84-66)

Cloudy Currently: San Francisco, CA
Temp: 62° F
  • Game info: 10:15 pm EDT Tue Sep 21, 2004
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The San Francisco Giants can still win a division title. The Houston Astros can only make the playoffs by winning the wild card, which is why this series at SBC Park is so crucial for them.

The Astros try to tie the Giants in the wild-card standings when the teams open their three-game set Tuesday night.

“Right now, it’s the most important series of the year,” Astros closer Brad Lidge said. “Maybe the next one after that will be, too, but going into San Francisco, we have a huge opportunity to take our destiny in our own hands. There’s no other team you’d rather face right now than San Francisco.”

San Francisco, Houston and the Chicago Cubs are in the midst of a tight race for the NL wild card. The Giants are the only team in that group that can still win its division, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by 2 1/2 games in the NL West.

The Giants are a half-game ahead of the Cubs and a game ahead of the Astros. Chicago is opening a three-game series at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night and would grab the wild-card lead if it wins and Houston takes the opener of this series.

San Francisco has won six of seven and 11 of 14. Houston has won four straight and is 27-7 since Aug. 15.

The Giants will open the series with Brett Tomko, who has become one of their best pitchers. The right-hander is 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA in his last seven starts.

San Francisco took two of three from the San Diego Padres over the weekend, but couldn’t gain ground on the Dodgers.

Two days after hitting his 700th homer, Barry Bonds rested his aching legs in a 4-2 win over San Diego on Sunday. He appeared only to draw his major league-record 106th intentional walk as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, then left for a pinch-runner with the bases loaded.

Bonds was exhausted after hitting homers in the previous two games, including his 700th on Friday night. He hit No. 701 on Saturday, but also struck out twice in a game for just the third time this season.

Ricky Ledee took Bonds’ spot in left field. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, dropping his average in San Francisco to .118.

J.T. Snow replaced Bonds in the cleanup spot, driving in four runs and hitting a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning.

Snow also had a run-scoring single and a sacrifice fly. He even made a nifty unassisted double play in the sixth, snaring a liner and rushing back to the bag to double a runner off first.

“What he’s doing at the plate is not surprising,” Giants pitcher Kirk Rueter said. “J.T. has always been a good hitter. He doesn’t hit 30 homers, but he works the count and has great at-bats.”

Houston beat the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep and keep pace with San Francisco.

The Astros, who moved within two games of tying the club mark for consecutive home wins at 14, now play their next six games on the road, where they have won three of four.

Third baseman Morgan Ensberg, who hadn’t started in 21 games because of back spasms, returned to the lineup for the Astros on Sunday. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Ensberg is batting .272 with eight home runs and 58 RBIs.

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Starting Pitchers

C. Hernandez TB vs. B. Tomko Col
1-3 Record 11-7
6.43 ERA 4.04
26 K 108
23 BB 64
1.74 WHIP 1.34