Astros cooking up major playoff home-field advantage for fans

Take a peek at what's cooking this post-season. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The MLB post-season starts next week, and the Astros have given PJ Saidler the signal to start warming up … the grills and ovens at concession stands in Minute Maid Park.

Saidler is the general manager, His Royal Highness of Horseradish for Aramark Food and Beverage at Minute Maid Park. Saidler is in charge of all the eats at the ballpark and he's expecting big hungry crowds for the Astros' drive to the World Series.

While he's ready to fire up the grills, we fired 10 questions about what's cooking at Minute Maid Park for the post-season.

1. SportsMap: How has it been this first year back from baseball's pandemic year of no fans?

PJ Saidler: The year with no fans was very weird. Walking around a ballpark with a game going on and not hearing the cheering of fans just was not the same. I'll never forget that first home game without fans. It was so quiet in the stadium you could hear Dusty Baker talking to the players.

It's been exhilarating to have fans back. Just having a stadium packed with fans on opening day was one of the best feelings you can imagine.

2. SportsMap: Did fans behave differently this year?

PS: Fans have arrived closer to game time this season, but once they're settled in, it's almost been a playoff atmosphere every night. Fans are so excited to be back in the stadium you can just feel their energy.

3. SportsMap: What safety rules did you have in place because of Covid?

PS: We partnered with the Houston Health Department to come up with restrictions so we could safely serve our fans. The biggest change we had to make was not allowing fans to get their own condiments and buffet food. We took the standard onions and jalapenos that you would find on a condiment cart and we served them from behind the counter.

4. SportsMap: Were fans' eating habits different this year? Did they drink and eat more or less than years past?

PS: Industry-wide, we have seen fans eat and drink more than previous years. It's been like that at Minute Maid Park, too. I think it goes back to the energy in the building and fans are so excited to be at the stadium. They're just enjoying themselves more.

5. SportsMap: Were the old favorites still the top choices, or did fans order different things than usual?

PS: Fans came to eat ballpark food. While we do a lot of fun menu items, our top items are still peanuts, pretzels, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and beer. We saw fans gravitate to these items even more than usual this year.

6. SportsMap: What new items this year sold well? Will they become permanent?

PS: Crawford Bock from Karbach Brewery in Houston has been in the stadium for a few years now, but this season Crawford Bock made huge headway and is now one of our top beer brands sold.

We added a Killen's BBQ location to our upper deck at the Ultra Bar. It has been a great success and we plan to continue that partnership for several years

Taquerias Arandas came on board as a local partner with two locations and fans have loved it. We will have them back in 2022.

7. SportsMap: The Astros always break out new menu items for the post-season. What do you have planned for this year?

PS: We are bringing back the stacked nacho we did for the 2019 World Series. That's fried orange tortillas stacked high and layered with charro beans, salsa ranchero, crema, pico de gallo, jalapenos, cilantro and your choice of meat. It will be available at the Atrium Pop Up Kitchen Cart.

We'll also have Walk Off Nachos, your choice of Doritos or Fritos topped with queso blanco, fajita beef or chicken, sour cream and fresh salsa, available behind Sec. 114.

The El Pina Dog, an all-beef frank topped with smoked pineapple and candied jalapenos will be available at the Hot Dog Grill Cart behind Sec. 132.

8. SportsMap: How did Dollar Dog Night go this year? Are you still serving full-size Nolan Ryan All-Beef Dogs and not ripoff cocktail franks like at some other stadiums?

PS: Dollar Dog Night on Tuesdays continues to be a huge success for us. Yes we still serve our regular size Nolan Ryan dogs that you would get throughout the season.

9. SportsMap: Does Aramark consult with fans about what food choices they'd like to see at Minute Maid Park?

PS: The Astros and Aramark worked together to put out a fan survey focused on the food and beverage experience at the ballpark. It went out just a few weeks ago so we don't have the results back yet. We will take that info along with other surveys about what fans would like to see in the building as we start to plan our 2022 concessions.

10: SportsMap: You're the man with the plan, the boss with the hot sauce. What's your favorite thing to eat at Minute Maid Park?

PS: We introduced a Crawford Dog, which is two split and griddled hot dogs served with Crawford Bock bacon onion jam served on a toasted bun. It's been a hit, it's my favorite, and it's going to stay a few more years.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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