Kent has grand slam, six RBI in victory

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jeff Kent might just be the player that
finally propels the Houston Astros beyond the first round of the

Kent hit a grand slam and had six RBI as the Astros moved into
a tie for the NL Central lead with a 10-1 victory over the Los
Angeles Dodgers on Monday night.

The three-time All-Star, who signed with the Astros last
December after helping the Giants win the NL pennant, could be the
missing piece for a franchise that has won four division titles in
six years but lost in the first round each time.

"I couldn't believe it until three or four days after we got
him," winning pitcher Wade Miller recalled. "It was something I
didn't think we were going to pursue, especially a guy like that.
But it's been great. He's been hitting the ball well all season and
doing his job. He plays hard and he hates to lose. So when you got
a guy like that who's a great talent, you're going to enjoy being
around him."

Kent went 3-for-5, including his 10th career slam and first
since Aug. 9, 2000, for the Giants against Milwaukee. He is hitting
.293 with 20 homers and 82 RBI.

"I like playing here. It was just one of those days," said
Kent, who played his second game after missing the previous three
for the birth of his son. "Hitting is contagious. Guys were
getting on base and it gets you a little excited. Hopefully, you
can string a few together, and we were able to do that."

Brad Ausmus also homered and drove in two runs. Kent, Craig
Biggio and Geoff Blum each had three hits in an 18-hit attack for
the Astros, who are tied with St. Louis for the division lead.

Miller (12-11) won for the fourth time in five decisions,
allowing four hits and four walks. The right-hander took a 5-0 lead
into the seventh before Alex Cora led off with his fourth homer --
and the first against Miller in 39 innings spanning six starts.

The Dodgers fell 2{ games behind Florida -- which beat Montreal
earlier in the day -- in the wild-card race.

"We knew that we were going to lose a few more before the
season was over. The main thing is that we just don't make a habit
of it," manager Jim Tracy said. "We're right in the thick of this
thing, so we just have to continue to keep our focus where it's at
and put together a month of September like we did in August."

Hideo Nomo (15-11) allowed four runs -- two earned -- and nine
hits over five innings in his second attempt to get his career-high
16th victory.

The third inning was rough in more ways than one for Dodgers
All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca. He was taken to a hospital for
precautionary X-rays, which were negative, after a foul tip off
Kent's bat sprained his jaw.

The Astros put runners at the corners with one out on Biggio's
second double of the game and an infield single by Blum. Jeff
Bagwell followed with a foul fly to right fielder Shawn Green,
whose throw to the plate was short-hopped by Lo Duca. But as he
applied the tag, the sliding Biggio kicked the ball out of his
glove and Blum advanced to third.

Two pitches later, Kent's foul tip struck the base of Lo Duca's
mask, knocking it off his head and causing a brief delay while
Tracy and assistant trainer Matt Wilson checked on him. The same
scenario took place Saturday night, after a foul tip by Colorado's
Preston Wilson struck Lo Duca in the same spot.

Lo Duca, who finished the 5-0 victory against the Rockies, was
replaced this time by David Ross after flying out in the bottom of
the third.

"The foul tip he got tonight was almost in the same location as
he got the night before last, and he was having a little trouble
with his jaw," Tracy said. "He was still a little bit dizzy. And
then, when he finished the inning and had his at-bat, he couldn't
continue. We'll just wait and see how he's doing tomorrow."

Ausmus hit his fourth homer -- and first in 167 career at-bats
against the Dodgers -- in the third. He added an RBI single in the
eighth against Steve Colyer.

Kent completed the scoring with his 20th homer after Houston
loaded the bases with no outs against Rodney Myers.

The Astros opened the scoring in the first on doubles by Biggio
and Kent, ending a scoreless string of 23 consecutive scoreless
innings by Dodgers pitchers -- including back-to-back shutouts
against the Rockies.

Game notes
The Dodgers haven't pitched three consecutive shutouts
since July 25-27, 1991, at Dodger Stadium -- including a 10-inning
win over Montreal. The last time they had three straight
nine-inning shutouts was Sept. 18-20, 1988 -- a stretch that
included Tim Belcher's first big league shutout, and a 1-0 win by
Orel Hershiser during his record 59-inning scoreless streak.