Alvarez, Lo Duca beat Clemens

Let's see: the Dodgers sent Wilson Alvarez to the mound Saturday to face the Astros and Roger Clemens. Alvarez is 96-85 lifetime with an earned run average over four. Clemens is 320-162 with an ERA nearly a run less and sporting 4,200 strikeouts plus he was pitching to a patchwork Dodger lineup due to injuries. It looked like L.A. was the biggest underdog since Kirk Gibson limped to the plate for face the best reliever in baseball in the first game of the 1988 World Series.

The guy on the corner in the green and yellow sportscoat would have given you spectacular odds on this game. But baseball being the quirky game it it is, Alvarez worked six shutout innings, Paul Lo Duca slugged a three-run homer and the tough Dodger bullpen made that stand up for a big 3-1 win.

Alvarez, taking the place of disabled right-hander Hideo Nomo, made a clutch start, only his fifth of the year, as the Dodgers won for the seventh time in eight games before 46,321. That allowed Los Angeles to cling to their .009 lead over the San Francisco Giants with one game to go before the All-Star break.

"To beat Clemens is something else. It's like winning a playoff game. I knew before the game I have to give my best stuff and get people out. I know if I give up a few runs it's going to be hard to win the game. I know I've got to get my 'A-game,' because everybody knows who's on the other side. To beat that guy was not easy. Today was a big celebration day."--Wilson Alvarez.

Guillermo Mota took over for Alvarez when he ran into trouble in the seventh and manager Jim Tracy brought in Eric Gagné, for a two-inning save, his 23rd of the season and 130th of his career to pass Jeff Shaw and become the all-time Dodger franchise leader. It was only his second career two-inning save, he struck out the side in the ninth and required 32 pitches.

Alvarez (3-3) was charged with one run on three hits in six-plus innings while winning the 97th game of his career.

Alvarez obviously got a huge boost from Lo Duca's home run, but Dave Roberts ignited the winning rally in the with a leadoff walk and a stolen base. Cesar Izturis dropped a soft double into right field and Roberts had to hold up to see if it would be caught and then stopping at third base.

The Dodger catcher then slammed the first pitch into the left field bullpen, his eighth, one more than he hit all last season, and fourth in the last nine games.

The Dodgers defense was as strong as Alvarez. demonstrating why it is the best in the league. Included were diving catches from Milton Bradley and Alex Cora. Lo Duca hustled out from behind the plate to made a fine play on a potential bunt single. Shawn Green started a 3-6-4 double-play and shortstop Cesar Izturis made a sparkling, back-handed play to end Houston's seventh-inning rally.

Alvarez, finally armed with a three-run lead, walked Jeff Bagwell leading off the seventh and gave up a single to Lance Berkman that brought out Tracy with the hook and Alvarez left to a roaring ovation.

Guillermo Mota nicked Jeff Kent with a pitch to load the bases with none out, but Cora made a diving catch of pinch-hitter Carlos Beltran's line drive for the first out. Pinch-hitter Mike Lamb hit a long foul to Roberts that scored Bagwell and Izturis then grabbed Brad Ausmus' grounder in the hole and threw to third baseman Robin Ventura, who tagged Berkman for the third out.

Dodger Blue Notes--Tracy announced that Jeff Weaver, despite a deceptive losing record, has become the Dodgers' ace and will open the second half as the starting pitcher Thursday in Arizona and 20-year-old rookie Edwin Jackson will remain in the rotation as the fifth starter. Between the two will be Kazuhisa Ishii, Odalis Perez and Jose Lima. .. On the day of his biggest win as a Dodger, Wilson Alvarez said he plans to retire after the 2005 season. "I think I've got one more year in me," said the 34-year-old Alvarez, now in his 13th Major League season. He said 100 wins is not his biggest goal but rather another trip to the postseason. ... Hall of Fame Spanish language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin will announce Tuesday's All-Star Game from Houston with Cookie Rojas on ESPN Desportes. Jarrin has worked 16 All-Star Games and 19 World Series ... Edwin Jackson's fastball, clocked at or above at 95 mph earlier this season, topped out at only 92 mph against Houston. The Dodgers have told teams they want to monitor Jackson, the club's 2002 minor league pitcher of the year, for another three starts before deciding on whether to include him in a trade. Many in the Dodger organization believe the team needs another proven starter, as well as a run producer, to outlast San Francisco and San Diego but most feel the Dodgers will not trade the youngster. ... The Dodgers have hired Greg McElroy, who was instrumental in selling the naming rights to two Texas sports facilities in the last five years, as chief sales officer. Co-owner Frank McCourt, who has said he would consider selling naming rights to Dodger Stadium, said he hired McElroy to focus on building relationships within the Los Angeles corporate community, with the goal of selling sponsorships and renting luxury suites. McCourt said he has not directed McElroy to sell naming rights to the stadium.