HOUSTON -- It has become something of a ritual lately with the Dodgers, with every piece of good news tempered by some bad news.
One night they don't get one hit, for example, which is bad news. But they still win, which is good news. Another night they blow a five-run lead in the span of three outs, which is bad news. But they come back to win in extra innings, which is good news.
And so it went Wednesday, when right-hander Hiroki Kuroda came off the disabled list to throw seven shutout innings at the Houston Astros in a 4-1 win that moved the Dodgers to within 1 1/2 games of division-leading Arizona, the closest they've been to first place since early April.
Only that became nothing more than the silver lining on the black cloud which began descending on the Dodgers in the third inning. That's when trainer Stan Conte gave Manager Joe Torre the bad news that sparkplug shortstop Rafael Furcal will undergo back surgery today. And with less than three months left in the season, there's no guarantee he'll play again this year.
"Just from all the numbers that I've heard, I think it's probably a minimum of eight weeks," Torre said.
It has already been that long since Furcal, the team's offensive leader, played in a major league game. He went on the disabled list May 6 and though he appeared close to coming back several times since, he lasted only four innings in a minor league rehab game Monday before waking up in pain again Tuesday.
So with rest, massage and exercises obviously not getting the job done, Dr. Robert Watkins, who examined Furcal on Wednesday, elected to perform a microdiscectomy on the player's lower left back this morning. In most cases the procedure involves the removal of a small portion of the bone over the nerve root to relieve pressure.
"It's a blow. But it's reality," said Torre, whose team was four games over .500 and averaging nearly 5 1/2 runs with Furcal in the lineup. They're 22-30 and scoring two fewer runs per game without him.
In June, the only full month the Dodgers were without Furcal, they scored only 84 runs in 27 games, worst in the majors.
"It's frustrating. And from what I understand, he's ready to just do this and get it done and basically get it over with," Torre said. "We anticipate this will solve everything."
Furcal, who was bothered by ankle problems last year, also missed the last two weeks because of a sore back. And after a winter spent on rehab and conditioning, he got off to a fast start, batting .366 with 34 runs scored in 32 games before his back seized up again.
Torre says the Dodgers will continue playing veteran Angel Berroa and rookie Luis Maza at shortstop in Furcal's absence, but those two are hitting .213 combined. Nomar Garciaparra is also an option when he returns from the calf injury that has kept him out since April.
"We'll try to figure it out and play piecemeal, probably, from now until the All-Star break and see what we've got," Torre said.
In the meantime, Torre said General Manager Ned Colletti continues to explore options outside the organization.
All that put a damper on a night that should have belonged to Kuroda, who was brilliant after missing three starts because of shoulder tendinitis.
The right-hander allowed more than one runner to reach base in an inning only once -- and he escaped that fifth-inning jam by picking David Newhan off second. By then the Dodgers had the game well in hand, having scored in four of the first five innings against Houston starter Runelvys Hernandez (0-2).
Jeff Kent, who is hitting .375 over his last 14 games, knocked in two of those runs with a pair of doubles. Maza drove in another with a squeeze bunt in the fourth and the final run came on a booming home run by Andre Ethier, who had three hits and finished a triple shy of the cycle.
He then talked about the team's need to prepare for a pennant race without Furcal.
"You've got to move forward, go ahead and say this is what we've got until it's shown otherwise," Ethier said. "He's a talented guy. And we're more than sure if he were to come back, he'd really help the team a lot. But what we got here is what we're going with.
"And we're not going to look over our shoulder waiting for guys to show up."