Astros 10, Dodgers 1

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

Kent hit a grand slam and had six RBIs 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 RBIs.

“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 1/2 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 Dodgerspitchers—including back-to-back shutouts against the Rockies.

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 winby Orel Hershiser during his record 59-inning scoreless streak.

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