Nomar slam off Lidge sparks Dodgers' rally past Astros

HOUSTON (AP) -- Nomar Garciaparra was just looking to make contact against Brad Lidge in the ninth inning.

He ended up with his first big hit for his new team.

Garciaparra hit a go-ahead grand slam off Lidge for his first RBI with the Dodgers, sending Los Angeles to a 6-2 win over the Houston Astros on Monday night.

"I just threw the barrel at it, tried to drive it," Garciaparra said. "Fortunately for me I got lucky and it went out for me."

Andy Pettitte held the Dodgers hitless until J.D. Drew homered
with one out in the seventh to tie the score at 1. Lance Berkman's
eighth-inning shot put Houston ahead again, but Lidge (0-1) couldn't hold the lead.

"Obviously, that was a tough inning for me," Lidge said. "My control wasn't there."

After Kenny Lofton tripled with one out, the All-Star closer walked Drew and Jeff Kent. Garciaparra then drove a 2-2 pitch to left-center for his sixth career slam and first since June 22, 2004, with Boston against Minnesota.

"I threw him two fastballs I thought were pretty good," Lidge said, "and then I threw him the third one and he was right on it."

Garciaparra was thinking small as he stepped into the box. He just wanted to avoid a double play and give Bill Mueller a chance to hit after him.

"Just get a ball I can drive and get it up in the air," Garciaparra said. "If you get the ball in the air, you get a guy in. If not, worse-case scenario, you've got a guy in Bill Mueller who will give you a good at-bat."

Garciaparra was playing in only his second game since returning from a brief minor-league rehab stint. He missed the first 17 games of the season with a strained muscle in his rib cage.

Mike Gallo replaced Lidge and gave up an RBI single to Dioner Navarro.

Lidge had been 7-for-7 on save opportunities this year. It was his first blown save since he gave up Albert Pujols' mammoth home run in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series last October against St. Louis. Lidge also had two losses in the World Series against the Chicago White Sox.

During spring training, Lidge insisted he had shaken off those failures by the following day. He said he would do the same this time.

"If I was more concerned, it would be a bad problem," Lidge said. "Tonight, I'll be upset with myself. Tomorrow, I'll come back out and feel the same as I would if I had eight [saves] in a row."

Danys Baez entered for the Dodgers with two on in the bottom of the ninth and closed it out for his sixth save. He got Brad Ausmus on a fly ball before Adam Everett grounded into a game-ending double play.

The Dodgers snapped the Astros' three-game winning streak. Houston had won seven of eight.

Garciaparra's shot spoiled the strongest start of the season by Pettitte, who yielded just one hit in seven innings. He struck out five and walked three.

"I was putting the ball right where I wanted to, pretty much all night," Pettitte said. "It's just frustrating. You hate to let that one get away from us."

Berkman connected off winner Takashi Saito (2-0).

Saito relieved starter Derek Lowe, who was almost as good as Pettitte. Lowe gave up one run and four hits in seven innings.

Ausmus had three of those hits, including an RBI double in the second. Ausmus was 1-for-15 against Lowe before Monday.

For a while, it looked as though Ausmus' first hit would be enough for Pettitte.

He got some help from his outfielders in the second. Preston Wilson made a leaping catch on the warning track in left to rob Garciaparra of extra bases, and then Willy Taveras chased down Mueller's deep fly to right-center.

With one out in the Astros' second, Jason Lane walked before Ausmus hammered Lowe's 2-2 pitch over Lofton's head in center. Lane scored easily as the ball rolled up Tal's Hill, the grassy ramp named for Astros president Tal Smith.

But after the second inning, Lowe almost matched Pettitte out for out.

The right-hander retired eight straight Astros before Ausmus led off the fifth with a double. Lowe stranded him there, striking out Pettitte between groundouts by Everett and Craig Biggio.

"You look forward to matchups like this," Lowe said, "then you look up and this guy's got a no-hitter going. It was a great game to win."

The Dodgers' frustration with Pettitte started to boil over in the sixth.

Navarro struck out looking leading off and Dodgers manager Grady Little bounced out of the dugout to argue briefly with plate umpire Mike Everitt.

Pettitte was unfazed, getting Lowe and Rafael Furcal to ground out. Lofton flied out leading off the seventh before Drew sent a 2-1 pitch just over the wall in right.

Game notes
Taveras, who led all rookies with 34 steals last season, got his first of 2006 in the first inning. But he rounded second when the ball skipped by Furcal and then slipped getting back. Kent, backing up the play, threw to Furcal for the easy tag. ... The Dodgers failed to steal a base. Los Angeles entered leading the NL with 20 stolen bases and has not led the NL in that category for a full season since 1970.