Rodriguez dominates Dodgers as Astros snap skid

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- All-Star closer Brad Lidge needed someone else to save him.

Lidge came on in the ninth inning Thursday trying to preserve a three-run lead for Wandy Rodriguez and nearly squandered it. Houston manager Phil Garner yanked Lidge with the bases loaded and two outs, and Dan Wheeler finished up a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers to end the Astros' six-game losing streak.

"It was frustrating," Lidge said. "I worked pretty hard and came up with a hold. Obviously that's not what I wanted, but I'm happy we won the game. Dan came in and got the guy out, and that's what we needed to do. We obviously haven't had a good road trip, so we definitely needed a win here."

Rodriguez took a shutout into the seventh inning, and Houston got RBI singles from Mike Lamb and Eric Munson. The victory prevented the Astros from being swept on a road trip of at least seven games for the first time since September 1996, when they lost all eight games during a swing through Colorado, Atlanta and Florida and were outscored 46-18.

Lidge was pitching for the first time since blowing a save Friday night in Colorado. He walked three batters, gave up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Willy Aybar and loaded the bases with two outs before he was pulled. Wheeler then converted his first save
opportunity of the season by retiring Kenny Lofton on a routine fly.

"Wheels picked us up today, but I don't think Brad's ego is bruised by that," Garner said. "I mean, he has a lot of pride and he wanted to finish out the ballgame. But the bottom line is, we fought too hard in that game today, and we didn't need to lose it. I had a choice, but I didn't like the potential of the alternative."

Lidge led all relief pitchers in strikeouts in each of the previous two seasons, including 157 in 2004 -- a major-league record for relievers. The 29-year-old right-hander had 42 saves last year, just two off Billy Wagner's franchise record, and pitched in his first All-Star Game -- striking out the side in his only inning of work.

Lidge replaced Octavio Dotel as the Astros' closer three years ago and entered this season as the career leader in strikeouts per nine innings (12.8) among pitchers with at least 200 appearances. He has 11 saves in 14 attempts, and two of those blown saves came in consecutive games against the Dodgers in Houston last month.

"My confidence is fine," said Lidge, the losing pitcher in Games 2 and 4 of last year's World Series against the Chicago White Sox. "I've been trying to do too many new things and trying to change a little bit too much. But at this point, I think I just need to simplify things.

"I should have gone after the hitters more than I did, but I ended up being too fine with my fastball and ended up walking some guys. And that's been my problem. I've never been much of a control guy, so it's more a case of not being aggressive enough. I'm making it real hard on myself, just by falling behind guys," he added.

Jeff Kent, who spent two seasons as Lidge's teammate in Houston before joining the Dodgers in December 2005, has empathy for the struggling reliever.

"He's been around the league a long time and that might have something to do with it, but he's just not throwing as many strikes as he used to," Kent said. "For a closer, he needs to be a little more gritty and more mean, and I don't know if he really fits that image, but the kid can pitch. If he would throw more strikes, I think he would be better served. But Lidge is a great kid and he'll be able to overcome it because he's got character qualities."

Rodriguez (5-1) allowed four hits over 6 2/3 innings, struck out five and walked four against an offense that scored 31 runs in its previous three games. The only run against the left-hander came in the seventh on a leadoff homer by Kent, his fourth this year and third in three days.

Derek Lowe (1-2) gave up four runs and six hits in seven innings without striking out a batter. Two of the runs were unearned, the result of a two-out throwing error by shortstop Rafael Furcal in the seventh that allowed Munson and Rodriguez to score on Eric Bruntlett's routine grounder.

Game notes
The Dodgers begin a three-game series Friday night in San Francisco. Barry Bonds has 62 career homers against Los Angeles, including his 500th on April 17, 2001, against right-hander Terry Adams. ... Houston's Lance Berkman led the majors with 36 RBI when the Astros began this trip but has only three since. All of them came on a homer in the ninth inning of Saturday's 9-6 defeat. He set a club record for April with 29 RBI. ... Jose Cruz Jr. went 1-for-3 for the Dodgers. The son of the Astros' first-base coach is 14-for-39 with seven RBI when his father is in the other dugout.