Astros 1, Marlins 0

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HOUSTON (AP) – The Astros began the defense of their first National League title with a shutout.

Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge combined on a five-hitter, Craig Biggio doubled and scored on Joe Borowski’s wild pitch in the seventh inning, and Houston beat the Florida Marlins and new manager Joe Girardi 1-0 Monday night.

Coming off consecutive 20-win seasons, Oswalt struck out eight in eight innings, walked one and allowed five hits to win for the 13th time in 14 decisions at home.

Brad Lidge walked Jeremy Hermida leading off the ninth, then struck out Miguel Cabrera and got the save when Mike Jacobs grounded into a game-ending double play.

Florida, with a major league-low payroll of about $15 million and six rookies in its starting lineup, couldn’t generate any offense to support Dontrelle Willis, who held Houston hitless for the first 4 2-3 innings but walked three and was removed after five innings and 107 pitches. Josh Johnson was the loser in his first major league decision.

Houston managed just four hits off Willis, who was making his first opening-day start, and three relievers. The only hit Willis gave up was Willy Taveras’ two-out single in the fifth. Willis then struck out Lance Berkman.

Biggio started the rally that led to the run when he doubled into the left-field corner with two outs in the seventh. It was the 605th double of his career, tying Paul Molitor and Paul Waner for 10th place.

Taveras reached on an infield single, a grounder that shortstop Hanley Ramirez couldn’t handle deep in the hole, and Berkman loaded the bases with a walk.

Borowski came in and, with Morgan Ensberg batting, the reliever threw a 2-1 pitch into the dirt. The ball ricocheted away from catcher Miguel Olivo as Biggio sprinted home and slid across the plate.

Before the game, the Astros unveiled a black, flag-shaped sign in center field honoring last year’s NL championship team. Nolan Ryan, the career strikeout leader who is now an Astros executive, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Willis’ first pitch skidded off the dirt behind Biggio, and Houston loaded the bases on walks by Berkman and Ensberg plus as error by Ramirez that allowed Preston Wilson to reach. Willis escaped when Jason Lane lined out to second baseman Dan Uggla, but it took Willis 33 pitches to record three outs.

Houston didn’t get a ball out of the infield over the next three innings and its only runner in that stretch was Ensberg, who walked leading off the fourth.

Adam Everett led off the fifth by beating out a grounder that Ramirez bobbled. It was ruled an error, though, preserving Willis’ no-hit bid. Taveras singled with two outs, on Willis’ 101st pitch.

Ensberg led off the sixth by lining a single, but Wilson struck out, Olivo threw out Ensberg at second and Brad Ausmus fanned.

Notes: Several San Antonio city officials, including Mayor Phil Hardberger, attended the game as guests of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. The city is trying to lure the franchise to Texas and Loria has said discussions between the parties are “serious.” … The Astros opened at home for the 10th time in 11 seasons.

AP-ES-04-03-06 2158EDT

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