Daily medical updates may have temporarily eclipsed the National League West standings in importance as a spate of worrisome injuries has shifted the Dodgers' focus in the final days before the All-Star break.
Already without right fielder Juan Encarnacion, who sat out a fifth consecutive game Thursday night at Dodger Stadium with a sore left shoulder, the Dodgers lost third baseman Adrian Beltre and first baseman Shawn Green for one evening and possibly much longer during a 7-2 victory over the Houston Astros.
Beltre left after his bothersome right thigh muscle flared in the second inning and Green was removed for a pinch-runner in the fifth after being hit by a pitch on the thigh near his left knee. While the extent of the injury to Green, who suffered a bruised thigh, is unclear, Beltre is not expected to return before the All-Star break.
The injuries marred an otherwise glorious evening before 33,324 for the Dodgers, who tied a season high with their sixth consecutive victory to take sole possession of first place for the first time since June 21.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 13, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Dodgers -- In a Sports article Friday about the Dodger-Astro game, it was incorrectly reported that Astro third baseman Jose Vizcaino fielded the ball on a play when Jose Hernandez scored from third base in the seventh inning. Astro shortstop Adam Everett fielded the ball.
Edwin Jackson pitched five strong innings and drove in the go-ahead run with a fourth-inning single and Paul Lo Duca homered as the Dodgers opened their final series before the All-Star break on a positive note.
They also took a one-game lead over the San Diego Padres.
Manager Jim Tracy removed Jackson for a pinch-hitter after the right-hander had given up only five hits and two runs in five innings. Jackson struck out two and walked none.
"We felt like with what had taken place the other night and the work he had done through those five innings, we weren't going to push it," said Tracy, referring to the fact that Jackson (2-0) had been pulled in the second inning of his last start against the Angels with a mild strain in his pitching elbow.
The Dodgers benefited from sterling defense -- outfielders Jayson Werth and Milton Bradley made consecutive diving catches in the seventh -- and heads-up baserunning by Jose Hernandez, who scored later in the inning after Houston third baseman Jose Vizcaino had apparently held him at third base on a groundout.
Hernandez remained frozen a few feet down the third-base line as a drawn-in Vizcaino fielded Olmedo Saenz's grounder but took off for home the moment Vizcaino threw to first for the out, beating the throw home by Jeff Bagwell.
Houston threatened in the eighth after Dodger reliever Darren Dreifort walked the bases loaded with one out, but Tom Martin got Lance Berkman to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Martin also pitched a perfect ninth to record his first save since 1997, while pitching for the Astros.
Tracy penciled Beltre into his lineup even though the third baseman expressed doubts about his ability to play after injuring his right thigh muscle Wednesday against Arizona. Beltre could join Hideo Nomo, Odalis Perez, Paul Shuey and Todd Hundley on a disabled list that seems to grow almost by the day.
The Dodgers breathed a sigh of relief when it came to Green, who has only missed one game this season because of injury.
"We were lucky that ball did not hit him square on the kneecap," Tracy said of Kirk Bullinger's fifth-inning pitch that came in on Green.
Craig Biggio's two-run homer to left in the third, which had given the Astros a 2-0 lead, became nothing more than a footnote after the Dodgers scored the next seven runs.
"We got timely hits up and down the lineup," said Tracy, whose team produced a hit from every spot in the lineup and has picked a good time to get on a roll, winning seven of its first eight games in July.