The Houston Astros’ offense has awakened from a slow start to outslug one of the National League’s best hitting teams.
Looking to hand Billingsley his first loss this season, the Astros will also try for their first home sweep of the Dodgers in nearly four years Thursday night.
Rallying for a 6-5 win Wednesday night, Houston used Lance Berkman’s solo home run and Ivan Rodriguez’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning to put away the Dodgers for a second straight game. Hunter Pence, who had a two-run homer and a double, scored the winning run after advancing to third on Ronald Belisario’s wild pitch during an intentional walk.
“I had control of my pitches but they still got me,” Belisario said. “That happens.”
Averaging three runs heading into this series, the Astros (6-9) have 14 in two contests against Los Angeles (10-5). Houston, which dropped nine of its first 13, has also recorded 11 hits in three consecutive games.
“It’s a team game,” manager Cecil Cooper told the Astros official Web site. “We all have to chip in and help carry the load, and that’s what you’re seeing.
After hitting .189 through 10 games, Houston left fielder Carlos Lee has raised his average to .283 with a pair of multihit performances. He’ll face a tough challenge Thursday, however.
Los Angeles’ emerging ace, Billingsley (3-0, 2.84 ERA) has allowed six runs and 11 hits while striking out 21 in his first three starts. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed two unearned runs over eight innings in his last meeting with the Astros - a 5-2 road win July 3.
This season, Billingsley has benefited from a Los Angeles’ offense that’s batting a major league-leading .296 and has scored an NL-best 92 runs. The Dodgers were riding an eight-game win streak entering this series, but are now on the verge of their first three-game skid of the season.
Los Angeles averaged eight runs during its streak but scored 10 total in this series. Manny Ramirez, however, hit his fourth homer in as many games Wednesday.
Ramirez, Andre Ethier and Casey Blake all went deep during a four-run sixth inning, and James Loney’s RBI double gave Los Angeles a temporary lead in the eighth. However, Matt Kemp saw his season-long 14-game hitting streak come to an end.
Ramirez, 9-for-20 (.450) in the last five games, will face an unfamiliar starter for the second straight night. The left fielder had never seen Roy Oswalt before homering off him Wednesday and hasn’t faced Wandy Rodriguez (1-1, 1.89), who is coming off his best start of the season.
Rodriguez threw seven scoreless innings in Saturday’s 7-0 win over Cincinnati, but has struggled in his last two meetings with the Dodgers, going 0-1 with a 6.30 ERA. The left-hander gave up five runs in five innings in a July 1 home loss to Los Angeles.
Houston last swept the Dodgers at home July 8-10, 2005.