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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.