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HOU@PHI: Howard belts a three-run homer to center

PHILADELPHIA -- This is the start everybody imagined in December.

The Phillies sent Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt -- an order typically reserved for the first few innings of an All-Star Game -- to face the Houston Astros this weekend at Citizens Bank Park. They threw a combined 19 innings in the three-game sweep, which included Sunday's 7-3 victory in front of the second-largest crowd in ballpark history. They allowed just 14 hits, six runs and one walk and struck out 23 to help the Phillies open a season at home 3-0 for the first time since 1970 and open a season at home with a three-game series sweep for the first time since 1899.

"Oh, man," Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz said afterward.

Ruiz, who caught all 27 innings against the Astros, walked into the trainer's room following Lee's solid performance Saturday night, when somebody asked him how much fun it was to catch Halladay and Lee in back-to-back victories.

"Oh, my God," he said. "I can't believe it. And tomorrow we've got Roy."

The topic came up again Sunday in a conversation with right-hander Danys Baez.

"And then we've got Cole Hamels," Ruiz told Baez.

Ruiz smiled as he recalled those conversations.

"The first three games were special," he said. "And now we've got Cole and Joe [Blanton] going next."

And the rotation turns over Thursday, when Halladay pitches the series finale against the New York Mets.

"Guys are going to have to deal with that every time they play these guys," Astros third baseman Chris Johnson said. "They've 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."

Oswalt capped the weekend, which seemed fitting. He had pitched with the Astros for 10 years until they traded him to the Phillies in July.

Oswalt needed a change of scenery by that point, and Philadelphia has provided that. He went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA with the Phillies last season. He allowed five hits, two runs, one walk and one home run and struck out six in six innings Sunday.

He is 10-0 with a 2.17 ERA in 11 career starts at Citizens Bank Park.

"I really didn't know what to expect when I got out there," Oswalt said of facing his former team. "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."

Oswalt pitched well with Houston last season, but he got no run support. The Astros never scored five runs in any his 20 starts last season. And in his final six starts, the Astros scored a combined four runs for him, including three shutout losses.

That wasn't a problem Sunday.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard hit a three-run home run to right field in the first inning to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead. Ben Francisco followed two batters later with a solo home run to left-center field to make it 4-0.

They were the first two home runs the Phillies had hit this season.

Placido Polanco doubled and Jimmy Rollins singled to put runners at the corners in the third inning. Howard followed with a double to right field to score Polanco to make it 5-0.

The Astros scored a run in the fourth and a run in the sixth to make it 5-2, but the Phillies kept coming. They scored two more runs in the sixth to take a 7-2 lead.

"Our pitching staff is giving us opportunities to put up runs," Howard said.

The Phillies hit .349 with a .407 on-base percentage and a .472 slugging percentage this weekend. They scored 21 runs.

"We played steady," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We made some mistakes, but at the same time our pitching definitely held them down. We caught the ball good enough and we had a good offensive series."

Just like everybody pictured during Lee's news conference in December. Comments