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Jose Altuve just the spark Astros needed

HOUSTON -- Among the biggest highlights of the Opening Day ceremonies before the Houston Astros-Cleveland Indians game Monday was Craig Biggio, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, throwing out the first pitch.

Yet there was another one that generated a loud ovation from the sixth-largest crowd at Minute Maid Park history when second baseman Jose Altuve was honored by getting a black Lexus SUV for leading the American League in hits and winning the AL Silver Slugger Award in 2014.

Altuve, possibly the smallest adult in the stadium at just 5-foot-5, established the tone for his team in helping the Astros beat the Indians 2-0.

Now it's only one game and everybody connected to the Astros is quick to point this out, but if the pint-sized second baseman continues on his career path, maybe 2015, just maybe, will be better than last year.

"Altuve is a motor," Astros starter Dallas Keuchel said. "Whenever he's doing his thing, and that's the majority of the time, it doesn't surprise me of anything that his team can do."

He broke up Cleveland starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber's no-hit bid in the sixth inning when he blooped a slider for a single to center.

"I just want to make contact with the ball," Altuve said. "Kluber was throwing everything for strikes and he had good command. He was really tough, a 95-mile-per-hour sinker with a 90-mile-per-hour cutter and I want to put it in play."

Altuve accomplished something that wasn't much of a surprise: He stole second. As much as Altuve is a solid hitter, stealing bases is also a specialty, as evident by his results last season when he finished tied for second in the big leagues in stolen bases.

"We want to be aggressive, especially with him," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Everybody in the building knows he's going to go, including them. [Catcher Yan Gomes] throws the ball very well. It was just a good baseball play. I think he went knee-to-knee with [Jose] Ramirez at second. It was good to get him in scoring position there where we could score in many ways."

Altuve scored quickly from second when No. 2 hitter George Springer drove him in with a hard-hit single to left. The run was basically all the Astros would need Monday night, though they picked up another on Jake Marisnick's sacrifice fly out in the eighth.

Astros fans are hoping this young team, with its new manager, coaching staff and four players who made their Opening Day roster debuts Monday, will provide them with a better season than last.

You remember last season?

The Astros finished fourth in the AL West and had one of the worst bullpens and hitting clubs in the big leagues. The manager was fired and there was a belief this team was out of sorts.

In the offseason things settled down, and when you have solid players such as Altuve running around, it gives comfort to those who run the team from the dugout.

"The buildup toward Game 1, the changes, 16 new guys in that clubhouse, from a player's perspective, we got most of our staff is new," Hinch said. "We built a lot together just to get to this first game, and to be rewarded by a well-pitched game by Keuchel and timely hitting, and we tacked on a run at the end, it's just nice to see us get a lot of things right and things we set out to do from Day 1."