HOUSTON -- On paper, Tuesday night's matchup was overwhelmingly in the favor of the visiting Dodgers. Their heralded 21-year-old left-hander, Clayton Kershaw, had a 1.50 ERA, their lineup was stocked with terrific young talent, along with the best hitter in the National League, and they had won their last eight games, whereas the Astros had just dropped three of four to the Reds. But on the field, the Astros prevailed. Russ Ortiz wasn't at his most efficient, throwing 116 pitches over five innings, but it was enough to win, as the Astros topped the Dodgers, 8-5, before 26,360 at Minute Maid Park. The win was somewhat costly. Jose Valverde pulled a right calf muscle after taking an Orlando Hudson line drive off his leg in the ninth inning and making a diving throw to Lance Berkman at first. After a lengthy stay in the training room after the game, Valverde said he's not sure how much it affected him.
"I don't know," he said. "We'll check it tomorrow and see how I feel. If I feel OK, I'll be available for the game." Valverde admitted it was hard for him to throw strikes after the incident. He had already allowed Rafael Furcal to reach when he was unable to field a bunt toward the first-base side of the mound, and after umpire Jerry Layne ruled Berkman came off the bag on his diving attempt to recover Valverde's throw on Hudson's liner, the closer had to face Manny Ramirez with two on and the Astros ahead by three. Ramirez flied to the warning track in right, but Valverde thought the ball was gone. "Oh yeah," he said, laughing. But Valverde's injury is no laughing matter, especially if it keeps him out of action for a while. "I'll take a win at almost any cost," manager Cecil Cooper said. "Almost." Earlier, the game swayed in the Dodgers' favor almost from the get-go. Ortiz walked the first two batters and yielded a base hit to Ramirez, plating one run. The Dodgers made it 3-0 on a James Loney groundout and Russell Martin's single to left. Ortiz was hovering around the 50-pitch mark after only two innings. "Russ battled all night long," Cooper said. "He didn't have the command that he likes or that we've seen in Spring Training. The command wasn't quite what I've seen in the past, but he continued to battle for five innings." Ortiz described the outing as "rough." "Especially at the beginning," he said. "It was one of those things where I just didn't find the right groove. To be able to throw the ball consistently in the zone, it took a while for that. The base hit to Manny -- I thought it was a good pitch, but that's what happens when you get guys on. You walk guys and stuff like that happens." The Astros caught and passed the Dodgers in the third. Trailing, 3-1, Kazuo Matsui led off with a base hit to center, stole second and scored on Miguel Tejada's double. Carlos Lee gave the Astros a 4-3 lead with a two-run home run off Kershaw. At that point, Ortiz was in strict damage-control mode. "These guys did a great job of fighting back against a very good pitcher," he said. "I knew after the first my job was just to keep us in the game. I felt like I found it, because I was getting behind. They laid off pitches and I was throwing pretty good pitches. I just kept plugging away and tried to battle and get through as many innings as I could." The bullpen had its troubles after Ortiz's exit. Ramirez knocked a towering two-run shot off Jeff Fulchino in the seventh, narrowing the Astros' lead to two runs. And Ramirez came within feet of tying the game off Valverde in the ninth. "Obviously, that's the last guy you want to come up in that situation, but the reality is, rarely do you get a three-run homer in that situation," Berkman said. "I thought Jose gutted it out and did a great job there in the ninth." Asked if he was concerned about Ramirez, Cooper shook his head no. "Tonight was one of the few nights that I said, 'I'm going to just sit here and relax and whatever happens, happens," he said. Then, rubbing his forehead, he added, "I don't know if you noticed me, but I did a lot of this tonight. That means I'm pretty relaxed. We managed to make pitches when we needed to make them."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.