Strong starting pitching and a dominant closer got the Houston Astros to the World Series last season. The Astros may use the same formula this year if their season opener is any indication.
Oswalt outdueled Dontrelle Willis as Houston opened with a 1-0 victory on Monday in a matchup of 20-game winners from last year. Oswalt struck out eight in eight innings and combined on a five-hitter with closer Brad Lidge, who worked a hitless ninth.
For the Astros, the opener mirrored many of their games from last season. Effective pitching carried the team through a lack of run support.
“We went with our normal offensive output,” first baseman Lance Berkman said. “I always tell the guys if they want to win the game, throw a shutout.”
Last season, the Astros were 24th in the majors in total runs at 693 but won the NL wild card for the second straight season behind a staff that included Oswalt, Pettitte and Roger Clemens. The Astros’ 3.51 team ERA and .246 batting average against were second-best in the majors.
“That’s what the guy’s been doing for 18 years,” Houston manager Phil Garner said of Biggio, “coming up with big plays when you need them.”
Pettitte came up big on many occasions last year for Houston and will look to do the same in his third season with Houston, and first since 1998 without good friend Clemens as a teammate.
Pettitte forewent his normal January throwing routine to rest. It put him about a week behind his fellow Astros pitchers in spring training, but he hopes for another healthy season after finishing 17-9 with a career-best 2.39 ERA last year.
“Everything is great,” said Pettitte, who was limited to 15 starts during the 2004 regular season because of an elbow injury.
Pettitte is 3-2 with a 1.91 ERA in five all-time starts against the Marlins, including a 1-1 mark in the 2003 World Series while with the New York Yankees. He was outdueled by former Marlin Josh Beckett in Florida’s 2-0 Game 6 win that clinched the series.
Pettitte’s former batterymate with the Yankees, Joe Girardi, seeks his first win as Marlins manager.
Mitre, a 25-year-old right-hander who started 18 of 36 appearances in three seasons with the Cubs, went 2-5 with a 5.37 ERA last year. He did not get a decision in his only career start against Florida.
The Marlins became the first team to feature six rookies as starters in a game on Monday, but Girardi didn’t find any solace in his team’s competitiveness despite its inexperience.
“I don’t see any loss as respectable,” Girardi said. “We had our chances to win and we didn’t get it done.”
A day after Girardi’s team had to watch a pregame ceremony as the Astros revealed a flag-shaped sign in center field to commemorate their first NL title, Houston will have another ceremony before Tuesday’s game to receive its championship rings.