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Astros ruin Manny Ramirez's homecoming

Five pitchers combine for a shutout. Randy Wolf's good outing is wasted.


The fans at Dodger Stadium rose and roared as the left fielder stepped into the batter's box.

The left fielder was Juan Pierre.

That Manny Ramirez didn't receive the loudest ovation of the night in his first game back from a 50-game suspension was perhaps an indication that The Circus had become secondary to The Team.

But Pierre's pivotal seventh-inning pinch-hit at-bat also highlighted something else: the Dodgers' inability to hit with men on base.

Pierre struck out on four pitches, one of eight hitless at-bats with men in scoring position that the Dodgers had in their 3-0 loss to the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

Ramirez was one for four with two strikeouts as the Dodgers' lead over second-place San Francisco in the National League West was reduced to 6 1/2 games and third-place Colorado to eight games in their first game after the All-Star break.

"We had a couple of chances and we couldn't make anything of it," Manager Joe Torre said.

Casey Blake drew a walk from Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez in the fourth inning to put men on first and second, but Matt Kemp struck out and Russell Martin grounded into a forceout to extinguish the threat.

The Dodgers had runners on second and third with none out in the fifth inning, but Randy Wolf grounded out and Andre Ethier grounded into a double play.

Up to that point, the difference in the game was a fifth-inning solo home run that went into the books as catcher Humberto Quintero's first long ball of the season.

Victimized by the Dodgers' inability to score was Wolf, Mr. No Decision.

Wolf went into the All-Star break with 12 no-decisions in 19 starts, on pace to break the season record of 20 no-decisions set by Bert Blyleven in 1979. That was something Wolf said he wanted to avoid.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

Wolf, who was charged with only one run and two hits in the first six innings, was charged with a loss that dropped his record to 4-4. He failed to earn a win for the eighth time in nine starts.

Backed by a couple of acrobatic defensive plays by Orlando Hudson and Rafael Furcal, the crafty left-hander was lights-out through the first six innings.

"It's the sharpest I've been in a while," Wolf said. "I just had a good feel. I felt I was able to add and subtract on my fastball, throw it in and out."

Until Quintero went deep, only two runners had reached base: Kazuo Matsui who doubled in the third inning, and Lance Berkman, who walked in the fourth.

The Astros broke down Wolf in the seventh.

Carlos Lee singled, Miguel Tejada singled, Hunter Pence singled and Wolf was out of the game.

In came Guillermo Mota, who gave up a run-scoring single to Matsui that doubled the Astros' lead to 2-0. It became 3-0 when Quintero grounded into a double play.

The Dodgers made one last charge in the bottom of the inning.

James Loney walked and Hudson singled.

But Pierre struck out.

So did Furcal.

Then Ethier grounded out.

The Dodgers stranded nine men on base.

In the process of doing that, one of Torre's main concerns about his team resurfaced.

Torre had to call four relievers out of a bullpen that was overworked in the first half of the season -- Mota, Brent Leach, Claudio Vargas and Scott Elbert.

As for Ramirez, his lone hit came in the eighth inning, a single to right field, as five Houston pitchers combined for the shutout.

"I'm just glad I got that game out of the way," he said.


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