Astros’ 6-run sixth carries Albers to 7-4 win over struggling Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Houston Astros pulled off an unorthodox double play at the end of the game at the expense of Mark Sweeney, one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ most recent acquisitions. Baseball’s second-best pinch-hitter of all time may not be pinch-running any time soon.

Sweeney, who singled home a run while pinch-hitting for reliever Eric Hull, was leading off the bag with one out in the ninth when Juan Pierre hit a towering popup to catcher Brad Ausmus in foul territory. Suddenly, the Astros were doing everything short of cartwheels to get their Ausmus’ attention— because Sweeney was almost at second base.

Ausmus completed the rare game-ending 2-3 double play with his throw to Lance Berkman, and the Astros escaped Dodger Stadium with a 7-4 victory on Tuesday night.

“I have no clue what happened,” Ausmus said. “After I caught it, there was noise coming from out dugout area, and I saw Lance jumping up and down waving his arms. I then realized that Sweeney wasn’t near the bag, so I just threw it over there. It was just a freak play that ended the game. It probably has never happened before and may not ever happen again.”

Brad Lidge, who got three outs for his ninth save in 14 chances, was glad he didn’t have to face on-deck hitter Matt Kemp—who homered in the first inning against Matt Albers.

“Obviously, I’ll take it,” Lidge said. “I don’t get a whole lot of double-play balls.”

Perhaps the most frustrated person in a Dodger uniform, other than first base coach Mariano Duncan, was Kemp.

“Things happen, man. People make mistakes. We’re all human,” said Kemp, who misplayed Mark Loretta’s first-inning single to right field into three bases with his third error of the season.

Sweeney didn’t speak to reporters after the game.

Chris Burke capped a six-run sixth inning with a two-run single and Mike Lamb also drove in a pair of runs for the Astros, who have taken the first two games of this four-game set.

The Dodgers, who led the NL West by 1 1/2 games on July 26, have lost 13 of 16 since then and trail first-place Arizona by 6 1/2 games. Now in fourth place, their postseason chances took another hit before the game when third baseman Nomar Garciaparra was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained left calf.

Albers (3-5) won for the first time in three starts since returning to the Astros’ rotation. It was the right-hander’s second start in place of rookie Chris Sampson, who is on the disabled list because of a sprained elbow. Albers allowed three runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings, striking out one and walking two in his Dodger Stadium debut.

Albers induced groundball outs by 10 of his first 15 batters, including Jeff Kent, who hit into a double play. The Dodgers’ cleanup hitter snapped an 0-for-25 drought with an RBI double in the sixth.

“I was throwing sinkers, got some ground balls that were hit right at my defense, and they played well,” Albers said. “I was trying to throw a lot of strikes to try to get the guys swinging early in the count so I could work deep into the ballgame.”

Brett Tomko (2-10) allowed five runs, six hits and four walks over five-plus innings and struck out five. The right-hander is 0-5 with a 6.06 ERA in seven starts at home this season.

The Astros broke open a 1-1 tie in the sixth after loading the bases with none out. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt went to the mound for a chat with Tomko, but it didn’t help as Luke Scott capped a nine-pitch at-bat with an RBI single to right field to put Houston ahead to stay.

Joe Beimel replaced Tomko, giving up Lamb’s sacrifice fly, a run-scoring infield hit by Jason Lane and an RBI single by Eric Munson. In his previous 60 appearances this season, the Dodgers’ left-hander had allowed only four of 35 inherited baserunners to score.


Home plate umpire Jerry Crawford worked the first 3 1-2 innings before 1B ump James Hoye took over for him. Crawford would not disclose the reason for his early exit, but Astros manager Phil Garner said it was a back problem. … The Dodgers are planning to salute Houston 2B Craig Biggio on Thursday night with a pregame ceremony before he plays his final game at Chavez Ravine. The 20-year veteran, who is retiring at the end of the season, has 96 hits, nine home runs and a .264 average here—including his first career grand slam. … The Astros also had a six-run sixth inning against the Dodgers in a 7-4 victory on July 24 at Houston. … Rene Cardenas, who spent 21 years calling Dodgers games in Spanish on radio—including the 1959 and 1988 championship seasons and the Fernando Valenzuela era—is working this series as an analyst for the Astros’ Spanish-language radio network.

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