The Los Angeles Dodgers flew down to Houston riding high after sweeping their opening homestand against the Giants and Rockies, and having won a total of eight straight games. The Astros help bring them back to Earth taking the first two games of the series before the pitching of Chad Billingsley (pictured above) prevented a sweep in the final game.
Manny Ramirez continued his torrid batting, going 5-for-12 with five RBI. It wasn't enough however, as the Dodgers struggled to deliver in the clutch, a measly combined 3-for-29 with runners in scoring position.
Even with that poor offensive performance, the Dodgers did give up multiple run leads in the two losses. It's hoped the Dodgers, coming in at 10-3, did not take an Astro club with a 4-9 record lightly. This could be a good lesson on what can happen when you expect only to throw your gloves on the field to claim victories.
April 21 - Astros 8 Dodgers 5
Clayton Kershaw, coming off his 13th strikeout victory over the hated Giants, showed his youth in this game, allowing six earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings. He surrendered eight hits and two walks while striking out three. One of the hits was a massive blast by Carlos Lee which scored Miguel Tejada.
The game started very nice for LA, with the Dodgers bagging three runs in the first. Houston then scored the next seven before Ramirez answered with a massive blast to deep center in the seventh inning. It would prove not to be enough as the Astros scratched out another in the eighth which proved to be the final tally.
The top of the Astro lineup was instrumental in their victory as the first four hitters went 6-for-15 with four runs, eight RBI and two walks. Operating out of the seven hole, Ivan Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with three runs scored.
April 22 - Astros 6 Dodgers 5
This match-up featured teammates from last season, with the Dodgers sending Randy Wolf out to face Roy Oswalt. Hunter Pence dialed long distance with a man on in the fourth to open the scoring, a lead Oswalt carried into the sixth until things went horribly wrong for the Astro ace.
Ramirez led off the sixth with a humongous shot that traveled over the Citgo sign in left-center on its way out of Minute Maid Field. Andre Ethier followed with a drive that carried into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
Russell Martin, who reached on a walk, was brought home when Casey Blake drilled an Oswalt offering deep down the left field line just fair, which had a grand time bouncing about on the railroad track atop the stadium wall. It was the third Dodger home run of the inning, all off Oswalt, who had allowed only three homers coming into the game.
Wolf could not hold the lead, as the Astros replied in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score, as Jason Michaels brought home two on a double that rolled up Tal's Hill in deepest center. He was cut down trying to stretch a triple on a wonderful relay from Kemp to Furcal to Blake.
In the eighth, James Loney doubled home Ethier to give Los Angeles the lead. Ronald Belisario entered in the bottom of the inning in his first closing opportunity. It proved to be too much for the Dodger rookie, as he surrendered a tying homer to Lance "Fat Elvis" Berkman then the game winner on a ground single up the middle by Rodriguez.
April 23 - Dodgers 2 Astros 0
Dodger ace Chad Billingsley showed he understands his importance as the rotation's bellwether, ending the Dodger losing streak at two with an effort that was not dominating but efficient. Chad worked seven and one-third innings, conceding only three hits and two walks while striking out five and coaxing three double plays to get out of trouble repeatedly.
Los Angeles started fast against Astro starter Wandy Rodriguez, with Rafael Furcal starting the game with a walk then singles by Orlando Hudson and Manny Ramirez to give LA a run after three batters. Rodriguez settled down and did not allow another tally through his six innings of work.
Geoff Geary entered in the seventh and conceeded the second run on a single by Matt Kemp and Casey Blake's run scoring double to right.
In the bottom of the eighth, with one on and one out, Joe Torre called in Jonathan Broxton for a five-out save opportunity. Jonathan closed out the eighth with little trouble but the ninth was another story.
Miguel Tejada opened the frame with a single then Broxton blew away Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. The fun kicked up a notch when Geoff Blum was awarded first after plate umpire Tony Randazzo ruled he was hit on his foot with a pitch. Replays showed the call to be a little weak on being correct. A wild pitch moved runners up to second and third, but Broxton converted his fifth save by getting Darin Erstad on a grounder to first.
The Dodgers lost their first series of the year against a team many would feel was inferior to their squad. LA had leads in all three games, and were in a strong position to win the middle game of the set.
The lack of clutch hitting was the primary reason for their troubles in Texas, but spotty work out of the middle of the bullpen is also reason for concern. Particularly since their next stop is to Colorado, home of the pinball table known as Coors Field.
Manny Ramirez continued to display his power stroke, with a couple of epic homers that were to no avail in the losses. Orlando Hudson also sparked the Dodger offense, going 5-for-13 with a walk. Hudson's wrist seems to fully healed. Maybe the Dodgers should consider offering to rework his contract, extending it a couple of years as the O-Dog and Los Angeles seems to be a perfect match.
The Dodgers travel to Colorado to play the Rockies. Friday LA sends Eric Stults to the mound to battle Aaron Cook. Saturday sees James McDonald taking on Ubaldo Jimenez and Sunday features Clayton Kershaw against Jason Marquis. Then it's off to San Francisco!