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Marlins' offense comes away empty-handed against Astros' Backe

HOUSTON (AP) -- Brandon Backe knows he got away with a poor performance against the Florida Marlins on Saturday night.

Backe (1-1) gave up five hits and five walks with two strikeouts in five innings, but the Houston Astros still beat the Marlins 5-0. Florida put runners in scoring position in every inning Backe pitched and came away with nothing, stranding nine in all.

"Awful, but the end result was good," Backe said. "Thank goodness I have a good defense behind me."

The Marlins came into the game with the NL's third-best batting average (.274) and their 20 home runs was tied with Arizona for the major league lead. Florida set a team record with six homers in Friday's 10-6 win in the series opener.

But Backe and the Astros' bullpen, which came in with a 5.34 ERA, shut down the Marlins' offense in this one, teaming up for Houston's first shutout of the season.

The Astros have made only three errors in 12 games and they were sharp in the field on Saturday night. Backup third baseman Geoff Blum, filling in for the injured Ty Wigginton, snagged several hard grounders and shortstop Miguel Tejada snared a sharp bouncer up the middle to start a double play in the fifth inning.

"I can't thank the defense enough," Backe said. "There were rockets hit out there all over the place tonight."

The Marlins had a four-game winning streak snapped and lost for the first time in five road games.

Florida starter Andrew Miller (0-2) gave up eight hits and four walks with six strikeouts in five innings. He allowed only one hit after the Astros scored all five of their runs in the first two innings.

"He did fine," said Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez. "He gave up those five runs the first two innings, and a lesser pitcher would've folded the tent then. But he stayed in there. He did a terrific job. I hope he learns a lot from it."

Miller came into the game with a 12.91 ERA after giving up 11 earned runs in his first two starts. He saw progress on Saturday night.

"I felt my stuff was a lot better than in the first two games," he said. "I felt good and I think after that second inning, I kind of settled down. It's definitely better for me. This is a noticeable difference from the way I pitched the first two games."

Berkman singled with two outs in the first, went to second on Carlos Lee's single up the middle and scored on Tejada's blooper to shallow center. Berkman beat Alfredo Amezaga's throw to the plate with a headfirst slide.

Jose Cruz Jr., starting in center for Michael Bourn, led off the Astros second with a double into the left-field corner. Brad Ausmus, making just his third start of the season, then doubled down the left-field line to score Cruz. Ausmus went to third on Backe's bunt and scored on Mark Loretta's single to center.

Berkman followed with a two-run homer to left, his fourth of the season and first batting right-handed.

The Marlins, meanwhile, left two runners on base in each of the first three innings. Backe gave up back-to-back walks with one out in the second and third innings, but retired the next two hitters both times.

Amezaga doubled to right with one out in the fourth, but Backe got Miller and Hanley Ramirez on consecutive ground outs.

Florida had two more runners aboard with two outs in the fifth, but Backe escaped again. Josh Willingham walked before Mike Jacobs doubled down the right-field line, but Backe got Jorge Cantu on another ground out.

Backe struck out seven in his last start and allowed only two runs in his first outing of the season. Manager Cecil Cooper said he looked better in those starts, even though he didn't allow a run against the Marlins.

"Brandon didn't have the real good stuff that he's had before," Cooper said. "But he made big pitches when he had to and he battled through it."

The Astros loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, but Ausmus flew out to left. Luis Gonzalez pinch-hit for Miller in the sixth.

Geoff Geary pitched two scoreless innings for Houston in relief of Backe and Doug Brocail retired the Marlins in order in the eighth.

Jose Valverde allowed two hits but no runs in the ninth as the Astros won for just the second time in seven games.

Game notes
Ramirez singled in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. ... The Astros turned a double play in the fifth inning, their 15th of the season. ... Cantu, Florida's third baseman, dropped Hunter Pence's pop up in foul territory in the sixth inning for his fourth error this season. ... Loretta went 3-for-5. ... David Newhan was called up from Triple-A Round Rock after Wigginton was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured left thumb. Newhan pinch-hit for Geary in the seventh and popped out.