After Hurricane Ike, power outage, Astros try to regain winning ways

MIAMI -- The Houston Astros were happy to hit the road after a rough stint as the "home" team in Milwaukee.

In their series against Chicago, which was moved to Milwaukee because of the storm, Houston's sluggers shut down. The result -- Carlos Zambrano gave the Cubs the team's first no-hitter in 36 years and Ted Lilly followed that performance by taking a no-hit bid of his own into the seventh inning.

"I think it affected us a lot," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said Tuesday. "I don't want to go into it any more. I'm really past that. So if we could go to something else that would be great."

It's been hard for the Astros to move on. The city of Houston is still recovering from the devastation of Ike, a storm that made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds; and the Astros' families and friends are still trying to adjust after being evacuated from their homes. On the field, their "home" series against the Cubs was moved to Milwaukee's Miller Park, about an hour and 45 minutes away from Chicago's Wrigley Field.

As difficult as it may be, the Astros said before opening their three-game series against Florida, it's time to move past the struggles in the batter's box.

Astros owner Drayton McLane now understands why his Astros had to play a pair of "home" games in Milwaukee, even though he's not happy about it.

"I violently protested from the time it was mentioned on Thursday," McLane said in a telephone interview, "but as we went through the exercise and there was no other domed stadium with availability, and with rain predicted in Atlanta and Arlington, there was no other place it could have been played."

Commissioner Bud Selig spoke with him.

"We spent 24 hours examining every alternative. We had three national weather services. We were very thoughtful in calling other franchises in seeing where we could go," Selig said Tuesday. "We finally determined -- everybody was in on this -- the only, safe practical option was Milwaukee. People can say we could have done this or that; it turns out this was the only practical option."

Minute Maid Park in Houston had only minimal damage, but McLane said it would have been "inappropriate" to play there last weekend.

"Downtown was just devastated, and they closed off downtown after the hurricane hit. Our ballpark came through with no problems whatsoever. We could have played a game there Saturday afternoon," he said.

The Astros now try to get back on track Tuesday night against the Marlins.

"Right now we need to get started," Cooper said. "Today's an important day for us. It's a very big day for us. It's a good way to start is to have your No. 1 guy going."

The Astros will send ace Roy Oswalt to the mound. Houston had won 14 of 15 coming into their ill-fated series against Chicago, but the Cubs left the Astros 2½ games behind Milwaukee and Philadelphia, which share the National League wild-card lead.

"I felt the focus on baseball, it just wasn't the same," right fielder Hunter Pence said. "It's hard to explain. You play every day and you're locked in and caught up in everything. You're focused on, 100 percent, on baseball every day. We just kind of got going thrown in a little whirlwind and some other things were on your mind. ... We're still worried about what's at home, but we're back in the baseball mode again."

A lack of sleep, coupled with a hostile crowd and a strong performance by the Cubs pitchers, silenced Houston's bats the past two games, Brad Ausmus said. The team hopes their problems haven't followed them to Florida.

"I don't want to take anything away from Carlos Zambrano or Ted Lilly, they both pitched extremely well," Ausmus said. "I don't know if we would have won either game, had we played it at home against those same two pitchers. But I think it would have been different. It would have been a different feel, it would have been a different energy. Certainly, we wouldn't have been getting booed. And the Cubs wouldn't have been getting cheered like that Houston."

Baseball players are creatures of habit, Cooper said. A couple night's sleep and the routine of road games might be good for the club.

"Yeah, we got our tails kicked a little bit," Pence said. "I think that'll get the fire going again. Gets you back on track. We're grateful to be able to play this game every day, to be in the spot that we're in. Just happy to be back playing ball again."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.