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HOU@PHI: Pence's homer gets the Astros on the board

PHILADELPHIA -- One of the reasons Roy Oswalt requested a trade from the Astros was his desire to pitch in a lineup that would be able to produce more offense and not waste as many of his quality starts, which was so often the case in his final two years in Houston.

Facing his former team for the first time since he was traded away last July, Oswalt was backed Sunday afternoon by a Phillies offense that jumped on Bud Norris for four runs in the first inning and proceeded to bury the Astros, 7-3, and finish a season-opening three-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park.

Oswalt, who was traded to the Phillies after amassing 143 wins in 10 seasons in Houston, held the Astros to five hits and two runs and struck out six batters in his first start of the season. He improved to 10-0 all-time in Citizens Bank Park, including 6-0 with the Phillies.

"I really didn't know what to expect when I got out there," Oswalt said. "It was a little bit different, being there for so long and still knowing some of the faces. When you first start facing some of the guys you've played with, it's almost like Spring Training. That's the only time you face your own guys. You know their weaknesses, some of their strengths. They kind of know you, too. They've been playing behind you for a while. It was a little different."

Last year, the Astros never scored more than five runs in any of the 20 games Oswalt started for them. And in his final six starts with Houston, the Astros scored a combined four runs in those games and were shut out three times.

"Any time you get five or six runs, it gives you a little bit of cushion to work with, especially when you score some runs early like we have the past two games," Oswalt said. "You can kind of work different pitches."

The Astros had the unenviable task of being the first team to face the Phillies vaunted starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Oswalt and were swept in three games to begin a season for the second year in a row. Houston lost its first eight games last year.

"Guys are going to have to deal with that every time they play these guys," said Astros third baseman Chris Johnson, who said he was fine after fouling a ball off his left knee. "They got a really good rotation and you know you're getting, whether you play three or four games, three or four of them every series. We battled and we would have liked to have come out with a couple of wins, but we'll try to get them next time."

Johnson, who doubled in the first inning, admitted it was unusual to face Oswalt, who had a locker close to him at Minute Maid Park.

"It was weird, it was a little awkward, just because when I got called up, he was one of the guys who was so good to me and always telling me stuff and taking care of me a little bit," he said. "It was weird, but I'm glad to get a hit off of him."

Norris got off to a rough start Sunday, giving up four runs in the first inning on a three-run homer by Ryan Howard, who grooved a 3-0 pitch into the bullpen in right-center field, and a solo homer by Ben Francisco on an 0-2 pitch one out later.

"It was hard to settle down," Norris said. "The first inning was kind of tough. I got behind on Howard and that's what he does to mistakes. He put a good swing on it and put the ball out of the ballpark. I was ahead of Francisco, 0-2, and trying to go inside and caught too much of the plate and he put a good swing on it, too. It's hard to settle down a little bit as the game went on, but you've got to be better than that."

Howard nearly hit another three-run homer on a 3-0 pitch in the third, but had to settle for an RBI double high off the wall in right field that put the Phillies ahead, 5-0. Norris retired the final six batters he faced and was pulled after the fourth.

"We all know he's stronger than a bull and that was the case today," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "He came out today throwing the ball extremely well and felt so good, he tried to overpower some guys and kind of got away from it, but once he had a few pitches under his belt, he really started throwing the ball much better. But at that time, we needed to try to get back in the ballgame."

Hunter Pence, who went 3-for-3 against Oswalt, hit a long homer to right field to lead off the fourth for his first home run of the season. Brett Wallace drove in his first run of the season in the sixth with a grounder to first base that cut the lead to 5-2, but the Phillies scored twice in the sixth against Aneury Rodriguez.

"Roy's one of the best pitchers in the game, and he's got great stuff," Pence said. "He's got every pitch you can have -- changeup, slider, fastball, runner. The changeup is really good. Fortunately, I was able to get into good counts and when I was looking for the wrong pitch, he'd throw it for a ball."

Starting the season 0-3 against a Phillies team with the best starting rotation in baseball was no consolation to Pence. And things aren't going to get much easier for the Astros, who open a three-game series at defending National League Central division champion Cincinnati on Tuesday.

"It doesn't change anything," he said. "It doesn't feel good. We've still got a lot of season left. They put it on us. We've got to regroup and try to find a way to get some games here in Cincy and come back with a little bit of momentum."

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