Billingsley retired the first 10 Astros in succession, allowing his first hit with one out in the fourth. After the tainted two-run double in the fourth, he allowed only one more hit over the final four innings. He threw only 66 pitches in the first six innings.
Billingsley was still strong in the eighth inning. Loretta singled with two outs, but Billingsley struck out Lance Berkman looking. The Astros' slugger, leading all NL first baseman in All-Star balloting, went 1-for-12 in the series.
Takashi Saito survived a couple hits in the ninth to earn his 14th save.
The Dodgers struck early in the game, scoring three times in the first and once in the third.
With two out in the opening inning, Russ Martin singled and Jeff Kent walked. Houston native James Loney bounced a ground rule double into the left field seats to drive in Martin and Blake DeWitt, only 3-for-25 in his previous 10 games, rifled a single to right-center drive in both runners.
Andre Ethier hit a long home run (#9) into the left field seats in the third and after Houston scored twice in the fifth, and Loney added his seventh homer in the sixth.
Kent lined out to end the Dodgers' fifth and left the game in the bottom of the inning with stiffness in his back. He said after the game that he could have finished, but left at manager Joe Torre's insistence.
Maza, who started the game at shortstop, moved to Kent's spot and Angel Berroa came into the game to take Maza's position. So a the club that was closing in on first place in the N.L. West, was using a second baseman and a shortstop who opened the season in Triple-A with Las Vegas and Omaha.
Kent's back problem is not considered serious, which is good news for the Dodgers since he had walked, singled and scored a run before he left, giving him hits in five consecutive games and raising his average to .380 over the last 15.
Kent came into the game hitting .375 in his last 14 games. He was 7-for-13 (.533) in the Dodgers' four-game series in Houston, including the game-winning homer in Tuesday's 7-6 win and two RBI doubles in Wednesday's 4-1 victory.
But until Kent takes the field tonight in San Francisco, everyone will be keeping their fingers crossed because Rafael Furcal's injury was also thought to have been only a stiff back.
Kent assured Diamond Leung of the Riverside Press Enterprise that he was OK. "Three fingers, three toes, I'd have played. Hopefully, I don't have a big deal on the plane. Looking forward to San Francisco, too."
And when asked about the team possibly being a half-game out by the end of the day, Kent put his hand on his shoulder. "Three months to go, young pup. Hang on ... Sometimes we have to hold the reins on young reporters not to be so doom-and-gloom."
Pitching matchups in San Francisco:
Today: RHP Derek Lowe vs. LHP Jonathan Sanchez
Saturday: RHP Chan Ho Park vs. LHP Barry Zito
Sunday: LHP Eric Stults vs. RHP Matt Cain
Score by innings Los Angeles 301 001 000-5 Houston 000 020 000-2 Los Angeles ab r h bi ave Kemp cf 4 0 1 0 .281 Ethier rf 3 1 1 1 .276 Martin c 5 1 1 0 .306 Kent 2b 2 1 1 0 .266 Berroa ss 2 0 1 0 .194 Loney 1b 3 2 2 2 .304 DeWitt 3b 4 0 1 2 .260 Young lf 4 0 0 0 .258 Repko lf 0 0 0 0 .000 Maza ss-2b 4 0 0 0 .225 Billingsley p 3 0 0 0 .065 Sweeney ph 1 0 0 0 .094 Saito p 0 0 0 0 .000 Totals 35 5 8 5 Houston 34 2 8 2 Error- Maza (3), Berroa (4). 2b hits- Lone (19). HR- Ethier (9), Loney (7). RBI- Loney 2 (44), DeWitt 2 (34), Ethier (34). CS- Ethier (2). LOB- Los Angeles 8, Houston 6. Los Angeles in h r-er bb so era Billingsley (8-7) 8.0 6 2-0 1 5 3.12 Saito (sv 14) 1.0 2 0-0 0 0 2.27 T- 2:51. Att- 35,696.Reinforcements Coming
Infielder Nomar Garciaparra and outfielder Andruw Jones will be in uniform for the three-game series with the Giants.
The players themselves initiated the change after it was announced that Furcal would be out two months. Nomar was going to be activated Monday but Andruw wasn't supposed to be back until the start of the second half.
Garciaparra, out more than two months with a calf strain, and Jones, who underwent knee surgery five weeks ago, were scheduled to start in Las Vegas. Instead Garciaparra is penciled in to play shortstop and Jones will take over in center field.
Two players will have to be removed from the active roster to make room for the veterans. Possible candidates include outfielder Jason Repko, infielders Angel Berroa and Andy LaRoche and pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney who has slumped to .094.
On the other side of the coin, and there seems to always be another side in this injury-plagued season, right-hander Brad Penny was scratched from Saturday's start. Penny, on the disabled list since June 15, will pitch to hitters in either a simulated game or a rehab start over the weekend and is still expected to rejoin the rotation before the All-Star break.
Dodgers Top National League in ERA
As mentioned the Dodger pitching staff has taken over the National League lead in team ERA. The staff has a 3.68 ERA (308 ER/744.1 IP), just ahead of Atlanta's 3.78. Los Angeles has posted an NL-best 2.39 ERA (39 ER/139.0 IP) in 16 games beginning June 17. The Dodgers are 10-6 in that span. With their 3.68 ERA, the Dodgers' season earned run average is at its lowest point since it stood at 3.62 after a May 6 game vs. the New York Mets.
Furcal's Surgery Went Well
Furcal underwent microdiscectomy surgery on his lower back in a 75-minute operation that was performed by Dr. Robert Watkins at Marina del Rey Hospital, and club officials said it went as planned without complications.
The minimally invasive operation used microscopic magnification to remove all or part of a ruptured disc pressing on a nerve in Furcal's lower back. He is expected to be released Friday, begin rehabilitation next week and be sidelined a minimum of eight weeks.
Watkins had performed a similar procedure in 2002 on Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown, whose disc was badly ruptured. Reliever Eric Gagné underwent a similar operation by Watkins in 2006. Both of them attempted to return too soon and and were sidelined for the rest of the season.
Furcal is in the last season of a three-year contract and will be a free agent after this season. The Dodgers are going to have to make a tough decision when and if he returns.