HOUSTON — For those who saw the final two pitches of the Dodgers' games on Friday and Saturday, take heart.
You only had to see a joyous Rafael Ramirez running into the arms of his Houston Astros teammates twice.
There is no telling how much longer John Candelaria will be seeing it.
Proving that nightmares can strike the same place twice, Candelaria was beaten by pinch-hitter Ramirez on a one-strike pitch with one out in the final inning for a second consecutive night Saturday.
With the bases loaded because of problems by reliever Jay Howell, Ramirez hit a grounder over third base to drive in Jose Tolentino and give the Astros a 2-1 victory in 10 innings before 29,085.
All of this happened less than 24 hours after Candelaria had relieved a struggling Howell and given up a two-run double by Ramirez to give the Astros a 9-8 victory in nine innings Friday night.
Talk about your lousy summer reruns.
"Did I think lightning could strike in the same place twice?" Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "Well, would you think that Jay Howell could allow a leadoff double to that kid? Did you think we could get seven hits in the first three innings, and then nothing else?"
Lasorda was referring to how Howell gave up a leadoff double to Tolentino, playing in only his fourth major league game, and the Dodgers' offensive futility.
He was also talking about how rookie pitchers Ryan Bowen and Dean Wilkins, sandwiched around second-year pitcher Curt Schilling, gave up no hits after the first two Dodgers singled in the third.
And who would have thought that the Dodgers' Darryl Strawberry, on the night after his best game of the season, would strike out four times?
"Guys are always saying, 'When you come into the Astrodome, it's like coming into a hole,' " Dodger center fielder Brett Butler said.
Anywhere but home has been a ditch for the Dodgers lately. They have only two victories in their last 14 road games and a 26-26 road record this season.
But it is one thing to struggle in Montreal, Philadelphia and New York. It is something else to struggle against a team whose starting lineup Saturday had a combined six years of major league experience.
The Dodgers starting lineup had a combined 64 years of major league experience.
"I don't care what we did on the home stand (7-2), we still aren't playing very well right now," Candelaria said. "This is not good."
The first-place Dodgers didn't lose any ground to second-place Atlanta, but they lost more credibility with pitcher Mike Morgan, who remains winless in five starts since the All-Star break despite giving up one run in nine innings.
In his last two starts, Morgan has yielded one earned run in 18 innings and is 0-1.
After Morgan did his job for more than 2 1/2 hours, it took Howell and Candelaria 10 minutes to ruin everything.
Howell, who has given up more runs in consecutive appearances than in his previous 10 appearances combined, fell behind 3-and-0 to leadoff pinch-hitter Tolentino. Force to throw strikes, he threw fastballs, and Tolentino drove the second one to the left-center field wall for his second major league hit.
Finley then laid down a bunt that Howell bobbled, putting runners on first and third. Finley walked to second on Casey Candaele's strikeout, leaving a place to put Jeff Bagwell with an intentional walk.
This brought up left-handed hitting Luis Gonzalez, who ranks second on the Astros with 47 runs batted in.
Knowing that Ramirez was the probable pinch-hitter if left-handed Candelaria came into the game, Lasorda made the move despite the fact that Ramirez was 10 for 20 against Candelaria, including Friday's hit.
"Make that 11 for 21," Candelaria said afterward, shaking his head.
"It was different this time," said Ramirez, who has 17 RBIs. "(Saturday), it was luck. He threw good pitches. He got a ground ball. I just got it over third base. It was luck."