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Astros' offense shut down in finale

Astros' offense shut down in finale

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HOUSTON -- Wandy Rodriguez has yet to have a bad start this year, but as luck would have it, his teammates haven't had much success at the plate during games he's pitched. As a result, Rodriguez has the lowest ERA of all Astros starters -- 1.80 -- but only one win in four tries.

Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, Rodriguez was very, very good. Unfortunately for his team, his mound opponent was better, and as a result, the Astros lost to the Dodgers, 2-0.

"Wandy pitched well," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We just need to figure out how to score some runs for him. For that matter, Roy [Oswalt too]. Some pretty good pitching performances, and we're just kind of wasting them."

Through the first seven games of the homestand, Astros pitchers have produced five quality starts. Yet they have only three wins.

Rodriguez has two quality starts during this home stretch, and he's allowed more than one run only once in any of his four outings this year.

Cooper lauded Rodriguez for a new maturity he had not seen in the past.

"We talked about this last year -- the way he would sometimes get in there and give up two, three, four runs and let the game get away," Cooper said. "We talked about him being more mature and being able to handle those situations, and he's done that. We're very pleased with that."

Rodriguez walked Rafael Furcal to open the game, and Manny Ramirez's RBI single up the middle gave the Dodgers the immediate advantage. But Rodriguez had few problems for the remainder of his six-inning start, seemingly growing stronger as the game progressed.

"I didn't feel comfortable on the mound in the first four innings," Rodriguez said, adding that he had a problem with a hole in the mound. "Later, I felt much better."

Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsly was as good as advertised, bringing a 3-0 record and a 2.84 ERA into this start and leaving with even better numbers. He shut out the Astros for 7 1/3 innings, allowing a scant three hits while striking out five.

"How about the game that kid pitched tonight?" Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Wow. He was something, wasn't he?"

While lowering his season ERA to 2.05, Billingsly helped the Dodgers avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the struggling Astros.

"It's huge," Torre said. "Coming in, you obviously aspire to do more things, but after losing the first two -- and having [Wednesday's game] snatched away from you -- the only way you're going to turn it around is to have the type of game this kid pitched tonight."

Billingsly benefited from several double plays. Darin Erstad singled with one out in the second, but Ivan Rodriguez ended the inning with a 4-6-3 groundout.

Rodriguez walked with one out in the third, but just as Michael Bourn struck out, Rodriguez was thrown out attempting to steal second. Miguel Tejada reached on an error with one out in the sixth, but Lance Berkman grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

And so on.

"It's tough," third baseman Geoff Blum said. "Those guys aren't in our division and all you've got is videotape to go on. I've had prior experience. I probably have close to maybe 20 at-bats off [Billingsly] and I have an idea of what he's got. But tonight, it was electric.

"It was crazy, because I actually got in some good hitting counts and he still was throwing 90 miles an hour, what looked like a slider with depth, is pretty impressive. He had us off-balance, he made pitches ... he had it all working for him. "

Added Erstad: "I got one pitch to hit over the plate and I got a base hit. Other than that, he pretty much abused me."

The Astros had a glimmer of hope in the eighth, when Michael Bourn reached on an infield hit, bringing Hunter Pence to the plate for a pinch-hit appearance. Torre brought in right-hander Jonathan Broxton, and Pence lined out to short. The inning soon ended when Kazuo Matsui grounded to third.

The ninth carried some intrigue as well. Tejada led off with a single off Broxton, and following strikeouts of Berkman and Lee, Broxton hit Blum on the foot with a pitch. Erstad grounded to first to end the game.

"We just didn't swing it well tonight," Cooper said. "Give [Billingsly] some credit -- we didn't hit very many balls hard. We didn't have many chances."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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