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3 up, 3 down: Astros 3, Dodgers 1

5/26/2012

LOS ANGELES -- On an evening when Clayton Kershaw was strangely human, the Los Angeles Dodgers were strangely no match for rookie Houston Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell, who dominated them for seven-plus innings and stuck them with a 3-1 loss to the Astros before 36,283 on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

The loss was the second in a row for the Dodgers, putting them once again in danger of what would be their first three-game losing streak of the season if they are unable to bounce back against the Astros on Saturday night with Chad Billingsley on the mound and tough right-hander Bud Norris scheduled for Houston.

The Dodgers went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position -- including an inning-ending, double-play grounder by James Loney in the sixth -- and the only hit they did manage in those situations failed to drive in a run. The Dodgers (30-15) maintained their 6 1/2-game lead in the National League West over the second-place San Francisco Giants.

The good

Still picking it. Dee Gordon hasn't allowed his offensive struggles to affect his defense. The promising Dodgers shortstop made a heads-up play in the seventh inning, ranging far to his right to pick off a ground ball by Jose Altuve and, in a single motion, fire a bullet to third baseman Jerry Hairston, who tagged Chris Snyder sliding in from second. Did it save a run? No one will ever know, but Jed Lowrie then flied to center to end the inning.

Also picking it. Second baseman Elian Herrera sort of made up for a costly error earlier in the game by one-hopping a low liner from Brian Bogusevic with runners on second and third, none out and the Dodgers infield playing in. After looking J.D. Martinez back to third, Herrera threw to first for the out, the start of a daring escape by reliever Ronald Belisario, who also benefited from a subsequent blown suicide squeeze by the Astros in which Jason Maxwell, the hitter, apparently missed the sign, resulting in Martinez getting caught between third and home for the second out. After walking Maxwell, Belisario snared a red-hot comebacker by Chris Johnson to end the inning and the threat.

Back in the saddle. After being activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day, Hairston and his left hamstring held up just fine, the veteran infielder going 1-for-3 at the plate plus a bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning to drive in the Dodgers' only run.

The bad

Throwing it all away. A throwing error by Herrera on what should have been an inning-ending double play resulted in the first Astros run and snapped Kershaw's 22-inning scoreless streak. Herrera took the throw from Hairston in plenty of time, but his relay to first sailed wide of the bag and clanged off the netting fronting the Astros dugout. Loney ran it down a made an off-balance, barehanded grab and throw to the plate but just missed cutting down Altuve, who crossed the plate to give Houston a 1-0 lead.

Going deep. Kershaw had only himself to blame the next time the Astros struck, in the third, when he gave up back-to-back, extra-base hits, first a one-out double by Jed Lowrie and then a two-run homer by Martinez to make it 3-0. Only a leaping catch at the wall by Bobby Abreu saved Kershaw from giving up a third consecutive extra-base hit to Carlos Lee. This after Kershaw failed to get a bunt down in a key situation in the bottom of the second, instead bunting into a force at third for the second out of an inning that Tony Gwynn subsequently ended with a groundout to second.

Crickets. Facing the Dodgers for the first time in his brief major league career, Harrell flummoxed them at every turn. When he wasn't deftly escaping jams -- the Dodgers went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position against him -- he was pretty much dominating, holding the Dodgers hitless during a 14-batter stretch from the second inning through the sixth and to one additional hit through the seventh. He was lifted after giving up a one-out single to Herrera in the eighth, having allowed five hits over 7 1/3 dazzling innings -- albeit, strangely, without a single strikeout. Harrell recorded 17 groundball outs.