Houston 8, Los Angeles 2

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Once the first inning was finished Wednesday
night at Dodger Stadium, the outcome was all but decided.

That's the way it is for the punchless Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jeriome Robertson set a franchise record for wins by a rookie
left-hander, and the Houston Astros jumped on Kevin Brown for four
first-inning runs in an 8-2 victory over the Dodgers.

Only once this season have the Dodgers overcome a four-run
deficit, and that was 4{ months ago.

The Dodgers have a team batting average of just .242 and are
averaging less than 3{ runs per game.

"Unfortunately, that's just too many runs to spot a team, and
it's kind of hard to come back when you put yourself in a hole like
that," said Brown, whose ERA rose from 2.26 to 2.37.

"To get four runs off him early is huge," Houston's Craig
Biggio said. "We don't get that many runs off him historically.
He's filthy."

By winning the rubber game of a three-game series, the Astros
moved into first place in the NL Central -- a half-game ahead of St.
Louis and one game in front of the Chicago Cubs.

"They're all big now," Astros manager Jimy Williams said.
"Robertson gave us some good innings. The kid has really
persevered, he's done some good things on the mound. He really
believes in himself."

The loss was just the second in seven games for the Dodgers, who
fell 2{ games behind co-leaders Philadelphia and Florida in the NL
wild-card race.

Robertson (13-7) gave up five hits and two runs in 5 2-3 innings
while walking none and striking out six. He was relieved by Brad
Lidge with two outs and nobody on in the sixth after retiring the
last seven batters he faced.

"He threw everything for strikes -- changeup, slider,
everything," Astros catcher Raul Chavez said.

The 26-year-old Robertson had been tied with Jim Deshaies for
the club record for most wins by a rookie left-hander. Deshaies was
12-5 in 1986.

That was news to Robertson.

"It's great, it's cool," he said. "It's the team I'm on. You
can't win games without run support. And they've given me good
defense all year."

Robertson's ERA is 5.10 -- indicative of his run support.

Richard Hidalgo hit a two-run single and Geoff Blum followed
with a two-run double to give Houston its quick 4-0 lead.

The Astros got four hits and a walk after Brown (13-8) retired
the first two batters.

"I just tried not to do too much, put the bat on the ball, hit
it up the middle," said Hidalgo, who did exactly that.

Brown said the Astros hit good pitches.

"Sometimes you make good pitches and they still get hits off
them," he said. "It's not like they were killing me, but they got
base hits. I couldn't get them to hit it to anybody."

The Dodgers got two runs in the second on an RBI single by
Jolbert Cabrera and Cesar Izturis' run-scoring grounder.

But that would be the extent of their offense. They had only one
hit in the last five innings.

Brown and reliever Paul Shuey combined to retire 17 straight
before the Astros scored four runs off Shuey in the ninth on a
bases-loaded walk to pinch-hitter Orlando Merced, a fielder's
choice grounder by Biggio and a two-run single by Adam Everett.

The Astros put two runners on with nobody out in the second and
third, but Brown pitched out of trouble both times with the help of
inning-ending double plays.

Nine of the first 14 Houston batters reached safely on six hits,
a walk, a hit batsman and an error. But Brown retired the next 14
before being lifted for a pinch hitter.

Brown allowed six hits and four runs in seven innings while
walking one and striking out five.

Game notes
Brown's ERA ranks third in the majors behind Jason Schmidt
of the San Francisco Giants (2.21) and Mark Prior of the Chicago
Cubs (2.36). ... Brown allowed one earned run or fewer in 16 of his
previous 27 starts. ... An MRI on Dodgers RHP Hideo Nomo revealed
inflammation in his rotator cuff. His next start has been pushed
back from this weekend to Tuesday night in Arizona. ... Biggio was
hit by a pitch for the 22nd time this season and the 236th time in
his career in the second. He ranks third on baseball's career list.
... Dodgers C Paul Lo Duca returned to the lineup after missing one
game due to a sprained jaw and went 2-for-3 with a walk. Lo Duca,
whose mask was knocked off Monday by a foul tip, wore a
hockey-style mask for the first time in a regular-season game.