Series: Game 3 of 3

Florida won 2-1

Game 1: Monday, May 9
Game 2: Tuesday, May 10
Game 3: Wednesday, May 11

Astros 1

(12-21, 2-16 away)

Marlins 2

(19-12, 12-8 home)

7:05 PM ET, May 11, 2005

Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Florida 

123456789 R H E
HOU 100000000 1 7 1
FLA 00200000 - 2 5 0

W: D. Willis (7-0)

L: R. Oswalt (4-4)

S: T. Jones (3)

Easley's 2-run shot all the offense Willis needs

MIAMI (AP) -- After throwing eight masterful innings, Dontrelle Willis lifted weights for half an hour.

His opponents certainly have no desire to see him get any stronger.

Willis improved to a major league-best 7-0 by allowing one run and six hits in eight innings, and Damion Easley's two-run homer sent the Florida Marlins to a 2-1 victory Wednesday night over the Houston Astros.

How dominant has the high-kicking lefty been this season? Willis, who's won all his starts, actually saw his ERA rise a sliver to 1.08 -- despite keeping the Astros in check for most of the night. He threw 48 pitches through two innings, 62 in the next six.

"These games are key," Willis said. "People put so much emphasis on September and August, but these games are key because we have to play well now to get to those key situations in September."

Roy Oswalt (4-4) also was impressive, yielding two runs and five hits in 7 2/3 innings for Houston, now 2-16 on the road. Morgan Ensberg had two hits and the lone RBI for the Astros.

"Guys are throwing really well and doing their jobs, doing everything they're asked," Ensberg said. "And we just don't seem to be able to get runs in."

Willis, who struck out five and walked two, retired 18 of 19 Astros during one stretch before allowing a double by Ensberg on an 0-2 pitch in the eighth. It hit high off the scoreboard, a few feet shy of clearing the wall and tying the game.

The next batter, Lance Berkman, walked. But Willis escaped by striking out Mike Lamb -- a left-handed batter -- on three pitches to close the eighth, the last a fastball that left Willis pumping his fist and pirouetting off the mound.

"If you're going to beat me, man, you're going to beat me on my pitch," Willis said. "And that's my best pitch, the fastball. It was just one of those situations that I like to be in. It's on me."

Todd Jones worked a scoreless ninth for his third save, striking out Craig Biggio on three pitches with two on to end it.

"Jones did his job at the end," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "Scary, but he did it."

With his club among baseball's worst in several offensive categories, Astros manager Phil Garner shuffled his lineup before the game; notably, he had Biggio batting leadoff for the first time this season.

The move paid immediate dividends.

Biggio opened the game with a double into the left-field corner, and scored two batters later on a single by Ensberg -- who had gone 17 at-bats without an RBI -- to give Houston a 1-0 lead.

But Willis soon found his groove, and eventually the Marlins gave him the lead.

Oswalt cruised through Florida's lineup the first time around, yielding only a first-inning walk to Carlos Delgado. And the right-hander came within a couple inches of getting through the third unscathed.

With two outs, Juan Pierre tripled to left -- just out of the reach of a diving Berkman. The next batter, Easley, connected for his second home run of the season, a 405-foot shot to straightaway center field in the Marlins' cavernous park to give his club a 2-1 lead.

"I kept the ball down most of the night," said Oswalt, who threw 130 pitches, 80 strikes. "I made a mistake on the home run."

Said Easley: "I didn't know if it was gone because of where I hit it. I didn't miss any of it, but here, you never know."

The homer was enough for Willis, who has allowed one run or less in five of his seven starts.

"He showed guts. He showed a lot of guts," Garner said. "He used the two-seamer, then when he got in trouble a couple of times he used four seams and threw it inside. He challenged and threw strikes with it -- that is a good combination."

Willis and Oswalt continued a trend of gems turned in by starters during the three-game set, in which the Marlins won twice. The six starters in the series -- Roger Clemens, Brandon Backe and Oswalt for Houston, A.J. Burnett, Brian Moehler and Willis for Florida -- combined for a 1.50 ERA in 42 innings.

Game notes

Marlins fastballers Josh Beckett and Burnett each had new Clemens jerseys in their lockers. ... Houston is 0-14 when trailing after six innings. ... Marlins LF Miguel Cabrera, who entered with the fifth-best batting average in the majors (.372), was given the night off. ... Biggio's game-opening double was the 576th of his career, tying him with Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro for 15th on the all-time list. They're two behind Wade Boggs. ... The Marlins had lost their last three games immediately preceding an off day.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press