HOUSTON -- For Ted Lilly, the scenery has changed. The city, the uniform, the teammates, those things are all different. But the story has been basically the same, all season, whether he was pitching for the Chicago Cubs or the Los Angeles Dodgers, whether he was pitching to keep his team in the playoff hunt of merely trying to finish up strong.
Not nearly enough run support. Not nearly enough of a margin for error. And, for the most part, not nearly enough victories.
Lilly pitched well again on Thursday night, but in a storyline that has become all-too-familiar for the veteran left-hander, he lost, 3-2 to the Houston Astros before 28,081 at Minute Maid Park, in a game that gave the Dodgers their fourth six-game losing streak in this increasingly hideous season.
Lilly wasn't dominating, but he was crafty. He got into and out of jams while pitching five shutout innings, during which he stranded four runners in scoring position. But in the sixth, he issued a most-untimely walk to Carlos Lee and then threw an unfortunately located fastball that Astros rookie sensation Chris Johnson slammed off the ivory-colored wall in left field, a three-run homer than sank the punchless Dodgers yet again.
Lilly fell to 8-10 despite an ERA of 3.58. In six of those 10 losses, whichever team Lilly was pitching for scored two, one or zero runs.
"I feel like I should win those games," Lilly said. "I had a two-run lead, and I was throwing the ball pretty well. I expect myself to go out there and have strong outings and win games. I don't expect a certain amount of runs. I expect myself to give up fewer runs than the other starting pitcher and win the game somehow."
Lilly did exactly that in his first five starts for the Dodgers (69-72), who acquired him on July 31. He posted a 1.44 ERA in those five games. Since then, though, there was a four-inning, seven-run disaster at Colorado on Aug. 29, and there have been two subsequent starts in which Lilly was every bit as good as he was when he first came to town -- allowing five runs on 10 hits over 13 innings -- but got a no-decision and a loss to show for it.
In eight starts with the Dodgers, Lilly has a 3.64 ERA and has been one of the most reliable starters in a rotation that has been outstanding from front to back even as the rest of the team has collapsed around it. Three of those five starters are potential free agents this winter, and re-signing Lilly figures to be a top priority.
Lilly, who originally was drafted by the Dodgers in 1996 before being traded away as a minor leaguer and who said upon his return earlier this summer that he had always aspired to come back, isn't thinking about the future for now, even as he enters the final weeks of his four-year, $40 million contract.
"Not in depth," he said. "If I really start thinking about it, I have to stop myself and realize that I just need to win games right now. I need to win my next start, and I need to do my job better. That is what I need to be thinking about right now, winning, and that's it."
In front of 13 family members, most of whom traveled from his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss., John Lindsey finally got his first major league at-bat, flying out to center while pinch hitting for Lilly to begin the seventh inning. Lindsey -- whose wife, 3-year-old son, parents, sister and brother all were on hand -- said he expects even more family to arrive on Friday.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Lindsey will get his first major league start on Saturday night, when Torre plans to rest lefty-hitting first baseman James Loney against Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. Loney is 2-for-13 against him.
Center fielder Nick Buss went 4-for-5 with four RBI and second baseman Joe Becker went 2-for-4 with two doubles as the Dodgers' low Single-A Great Lakes affiliate evened its first-round, Midwest League playoff series against Fort Wayne with a 10-5 victory at Dow Diamond in Midland, Mich. Great Lakes also will have home-field advantage for the deciding third game of the series, which is set for Friday night.
Quote of the Day
"Everybody is different. It's really hard to generalize 25 guys, or in this case more than 25 guys. For me, I just block everything out and focus on that at-bat and concentrate on whatever I'm trying to do. You just relax and try to get it done." -- Loney, when asked if the team's maddening ineptitude in run-scoring situations is a result of players putting too much pressure on themselves in those at-bats.
The Dodgers went hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position, including a devastating popup by Loney with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning against Astros reliever Gustavo Chacin. Chacin had walked two of the previous three batters to load the bases at a point when the Astros led by a run. Mark Melancon then relieved Chacin and got Jay Gibbons to ground to first, ending the threat.
The Dodgers stranded nine runners in all, five of them in scoring position.
In Loney's defense, he has been one of the Dodgers' best hitters with runners in scoring position this season, a big reason why he leads the team with 80 RBIs. Loney is hitting .327 for the year with runners in scoring position, including .429 (6-for-14) with the bases loaded and .500 (5-for-10) with the bases loaded and less than two outs.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (10-12, 3.39), who had the option of taking an extra day of rest when Torre juggled his rotation this time through, instead chose to pitch on regular rest Friday night. He will be opposed by Astros left-hander J.A. Happ (6-2, 2.86), who came to Houston in the Roy Oswalt trade on July 29 and has never lost in five career starts at Minute Maid Park. Since the trade, he has a 0.99 ERA in four home starts at the notoriously hitter-friendly yard, including a two-hit shutout of the St. Louis Cardinals in his most recent start there on Aug. 30.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.