LOS ANGELES -- Roy Oswalt made the most of his six days off between starts -- and a lot of early run support.
Oswalt continued his dominance over NL West teams with a four-hitter in his first outing after the All-Star break, leading the Houston Astros to an 8-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. Batterymate Ivan Rodriguez homered among his four hits and Miguel Tejada also connected.First baseman Lance Berkman, who leads Houston with 18 homers, didn't start because of a mild strain of his left calf. But the Astros staked Oswalt to an early 7-0 lead and won for the seventh time in their last nine games at Dodger Stadium."Roy was unbelievable. His fastball was exploding big-time," Rodriguez said. "When you pitch with a big lead, you're always going to try to attack every hitter and try to get as many outs on as few pitches as you can. And that's what he did."Oswalt (6-4) threw 105 pitches en route to his 16th complete game in 261 career starts and third this season. He struck out five and walked none. Oswalt is 12-0 with a 2.13 ERA in his last 13 starts against the NL West, and is 36-12 against that division during his career."They've got a good lineup, so the biggest thing is to keep them off balance and try to get them out in front and make them lean out off the plate," Oswalt said. "You also don't want to walk guys. They've got guys who can hit the ball out of the park, so you don't want to put anyone on and allow them to have a big inning."The Astros, who were a season-worst nine games out of first place on May 31, are three games behind NL Central-leading St. Louis following their 14th win in 20 games."We're playing pretty good baseball right now," left fielder Carlos Lee said. "We've been flying under the radar, and it's better to stay that way and kind of sneak through teams."Since May 29, the Astros are 28-16 while the Dodgers are 22-19. But Los Angeles still owns the best record in the majors at 56-33, with a 6 1/2 game lead over San Francisco."We've had very few of these games, where a ballclub just manhandled us," said Torre, who will send Clayton Kershaw to the mound Saturday to try and avoid the Dodgers' first three-game losing streak of the season. "If we're going to be a first-place team, we're going to have to shrug off this stuff. Right now we're not scoring runs, and tonight we didn't get good starting pitching."Torre, whose relief corps has pitched a major league-high 312 1/3 innings, was forced to go to his bullpen with two outs in the second after Chad Billingsley (9-5) gave up hits to nine of the 14 batters he faced and left with a 6-0 deficit. The All-Star right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA in six starts since beating the Texas Rangers on June 14 at Arlington.In his previous start against the Astros on April 23 at Houston, Billingsley pitched 7 1/3 innings of three-hit ball. But in the rematch, he threw 33 of his 52 pitches in the first inning while giving up four runs on six consecutive two-out hits."He's a great pitcher, but he just had a bad night," Rodriguez said. "He got behind in the count a lot of times and his breaking ball wasn't working very well. He was just bouncing it in the dirt, so we basically were just sitting on the fastball. And every time he threw it, we were right on it."Tejada homered to left-center with two outs in the first for his eighth of the season. Hunter Pence added a two-run double and Rodriguez singled home the fourth run. The Dodgers came into the game having outscored their opponents 70-29 in the opening inning."We were hoping he'd give us something good to hit, and it looked like he did," Cooper said. "I don't know if he was that sharp tonight, but I thought we swung the bats pretty well, too."Geoff Blum, who came in 2 for 17 with no RBIs against Billingsley, knocked him out of the game with a two-run double, and Rodriguez led off the third against Jeff Weaver with his eighth homer to make it 7-0.Rodriguez needs four home runs to become the seventh player in history to hit 300 homers as a catcher. The 14-time All-Star has 303 overall."I know that I'm going to get those home runs, and I'm going to get some more," Rodriguez said. "I'm thankful for the career that I've had, staying healthy and being able to play this game for such a long time."
The Dodgers are 15-15 at home since their record-setting 13-0 start. ... Ramirez is 12 for 37 with three homers and nine RBIs in 11 games since returning from his 50-game drug suspension on July 3, and the Dodgers are 6-5.