|Monday, October 4, 1999||
Volume 65, Issue 30
|Astros win third-straight Central Division title in
last game at the Dome
By Josh Gajewski
Although celebrating the closing of the Astrodome was nice, nothing could top the sweet taste of champagne for the Houston Astros, who won their third straight Central Division title with an emotional 9-4 victory Sunday afternoon.
Mike Hampton pitched seven solid innings and Daryle Ward came up with a clutch three-run double in the first as the Astros clinched the division title and claimed the first of two remaining playoff spots that remained heading into the final day of action.
The New York Mets also won, capping off a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates to clinch at least a tie with the Cincinnati Reds for the wild card spot.
But the story of the day was the hallowed grounds of the Dome. The final regular season game in its history created quite a festive atmosphere, even hours before the first pitch was thrown. Fans filed in, collected their commemorative Astrodome tins that were being given away and tucked their ticket stubs safely in their pockets for safe-keeping.
The 52,033 fans that packed the park saw quite a show on the field as well. The Astros jumped out of the gate with a four-run first as Hampton continued to dominate on the hill after only three days' rest. Ward's double was the only hit allowed by Dodger pitcher Robinson Checo, but his five walks in only a third of an inning allowed the Astros to jump out on top.
Ken Caminiti would later add a towering solo shot in the third and LA delayed the celebration in the ninth with a last-ditch rally but the Astros prevailed, 9-4.
It was their time to shine. Adversity has accompanied the team all season, but when reliever Jay Powell's fastball blazed past Raul Mondesi for the strikeout and final out, all worries were forgotten. It was cigar-time and the champagne was un-corked in the locker room.
"For this team to come together with all of the injuries we've had, it's unbelievable," said Jeff Bagwell.
After the game the crowd stayed for the postgame festivites, which included a long look at the stadium's history on a video presentation that chronicled the 35-year history.
The team came back onto the field for an encore salute to the fans, led by Craig Biggio, who rode around the stadium floor on his Harley Davidson motorcycle with Hampton riding with him. Fan-favorite Jose Lima handed out numerous high fives to fans that hugged the railings.
Then the greats took center stage. Gene Elston, the voice of the Astros from 1965-1986 was the master of ceremonies as he announced some of the all time greats to ever wear the Astros uniform.
Current broadcaster Milo Hamilton took over the MC duties as the Astros all-time team took the field. The chilling ceremony included a ringing ovation for Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. Current members Biggio, Bagwell and Billy Wagner also received thunderous roars from the croud.
Country singer Willie Nelson closed out the event with a rendition of "Turn out the Lights."
For the Astros however, the party has just begun.
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