HOUSTON — Although Shawn Hillegas didn't spend much of his youth collecting baseball cards or studying box scores, he watched the game closely enough to chart the progress of a good ol' country pitcher named Nolan Ryan.
In recent weeks, Hillegas has been able to get a first-hand look at a 40-year-old pitcher who leads the National League in strikeouts and earned-run average. The Dodger rookie pitcher has opposed Ryan in both of his starts against Houston, the most recent of which may have bolstered his chances at winning a spot in the Dodgers' starting rotation next year.
Hillegas and Alejandro Pena combined on a five-hitter Tuesday night as the Dodgers defeated Ryan and the Astros, 6-1, for their seventh victory in nine games. Hillegas, in his best start in more than a month, allowed only three hits in six innings.
"I'm hoping to fit in as a fourth or fifth starter next spring," said Hillegas, who pitched once in relief since his last start Sept. 19. "Pitching well now may help me get off with a good start in spring training. I think I've proven myself as a starter.
"It was a good feeling to defeat a pitcher with (Ryan's) kind of statistics," Hillegas said. "He's one of the greatest pitchers who's ever played the game. I didn't follow many players when I was growing up, but he was one of those you couldn't help but notice. It's a thrill to beat a guy like that."
Hillegas had dropped an 8-1 decision to Ryan and the Astros on Sept. 14. But the 23-year-old overcame control problems to improve his record to 3-3.
Because he allowed four runs over the first three innings, Ryan (8-15) lost an opportunity to earn 10 victories for the 17th consecutive year. His rocky beginning raised his league-leading ERA to 2.77, but he also registered 9 strikeouts in 7 innings, giving him 260 this season. He is closing in on his first NL strikeout title after leading the American League seven times while with the Angels from 1972 to 1979.
Ryan will make his final start of the season Sunday against Cincinnati.
"In spring training, I had two goals," Ryan said. " I wanted to make 35 starts and pitch 225 innings, and I've come close to both.
"I've been satisfied from the standpoint that I've had a healthy season and I've been consistent all year. I hope to make 35 starts and pitch 225 next year, too. I don't think Ill get too fat and old over the next six months."
An Astrodome crowd of 10,468 cheered loudly when Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda was ejected by plate umpire Charlie Williams three minutes into the game for disputing a called third strike against John Shelby.
"For not using any profanity or calling (Williams) any names, I got thrown out real quick," Lasorda said.
Two pitches after Lasorda's ejection, Franklin Stubbs stroked a fastball from Ryan over the right-field fence for a two-run home run.
"If you're going to get him, you have to get to him early before he gets into a rhythm," said Stubbs, whose homer was his 16th of the season. "I was lucky I was able to get a hold of a pitch I could hit, and I hit it well."
Ryan continued to struggle in the third. He walked Hillegas to open the inning and one out later gave up a double to Shelby into the left-field corner.
After Stubbs popped out, Mike Marshall walked to load the bases. Mike Scioscia followed by bouncing a two-run single up the middle, only the third time Ryan had allowed more than three earned runs in 33 starts this year. Ryan then found a groove and retired 11 straight batters.
"I've said it many times and I hate repeating myself, but it's a shame he isn't going to win the Cy Young Award hands down," Astro Manager Hal Lanier said. "He's done a remarkable job of pitching and coping with everything that's happened to him on the field this year."
Ryan has had 24 starts this season in which he has pitched at least six innings and allowed three earned runs or less. He has won eight of those, lost seven, and received a no-decision in the other nine.
Pena allowed only two hits over the final three innings to earn his 10th save, leaving him one short of Matt Young's team-leading total.
Second baseman Steve Sax left Tuesday night's game in the sixth inning because of stiffness in his lower back. . . . Pedro Guerrero did not play because of a sore left wrist. . . . The Dodgers' finished the season 6-12 against Houston.