Washington (1-2) at Houston (2-1)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 86° F
  • Game info: 8:05 pm EDT Fri Apr 7, 2006
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As the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals open a four-game series at Minute Maid Park, closely contested games could be in store.

Houston (2-1) won five of seven meetings between the clubs last season, but six of the games were decided by three runs or fewer and three were one-run games.

The Nationals (1-2) played a major league-high 61 one-run games in 2005. They won 24 of their first 32 such games, but went 6-23 in one-run contests the rest of the season.

The Astros took two of three games in their season-opening series with the Florida Marlins, with both wins coming by the narrowest of margins.

Craig Biggio’s run on a wild pitch was the only score in Monday’s 1-0 victory. On Wednesday, Houston took an early five-run lead but had to hang on for a 6-5 win, with Brad Lidge stranding two Marlins baserunners in the ninth inning to secure his second save.

“It’s the only way we know how to do it,” said Biggio, who went 2-for-4 with two runs scored Wednesday. “We can win 10-9 or 2-1. It’s just something that over the last three or four years, we have no idea on how to blow another team out. I think a lot of guys in here are used to the tough games.”

Biggio leads all active players in hits, and needs two more for 2,800 in his career. He also hit his 606th career double Wednesday, moving past Paul Molitor and Paul Waner to 10th on the all-time list.

Brandon Backe was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday on his 28th birthday due to back soreness, but expects to start in the series opener against Washington. Backe last appeared on Oct. 26, 2005, pitching seven shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox in Game 4 of the World Series, a game Chicago eventually won 1-0 to clinch the title.

A strong opening series has become commonplace for the Astros in recent years. Houston is 2-1 or better after three games for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.

The Nationals lost 10-5 to the Mets on Thursday night at New York, but the result was overshadowed by a near-brawl in the fifth inning. Jose Guillen started toward the mound after Mets starter Pedro Martinez hit him with a pitch for the second time in the game, and the benches cleared.

“I think enough is enough,” Guillen said. “We used to be friends, but that relationship is over.”

Nick Johnson also got hit by two pitches but also hit his second home run in two games, a three-run shot in the fifth inning immediately after the confrontation between Guillen and Martinez.

Washington pitchers only hit one batter in the game—when Felix Rodriguez plunked Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca in the eighth inning—but it caused both Rodriguez and Nationals manager Frank Robinson to get ejected.

Tony Armas is healthy as he makes his first start of the season, and Washington hopes he stays that way. The right-hander did not pitch after Sept. 1 last season due to inflammation in his pitching shoulder. He has been on the disabled list seven times since the start of the 2000 season.

Armas is 2-1 with a 3.14 ERA in five career starts against the Astros.

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Starting Pitchers

T. Armas Atl vs. B. Backe Hou
9-12 Record 3-2
5.03 ERA 3.77
97 K 19
64 BB 18
1.50 WHIP 1.42