Early this season the Dodgers carried an eight-game winning streak into Houston, only to have it ended by the then-lowly Astros, who took two of three games in the series.
Now Houston is a much improved ballclub, which it demonstrated by beating up on the Dodgers again Friday night at Dodger Stadium.
After Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley retired the first two Astros on five pitches, Houston pounced on him with a four-run, six-hit first inning and then breezed to an 8-1 win over the Dodgers in front of 51,209.
Billingsley, in fact, didn't get out of the second inning, getting charged with six runs and nine hits in 1 2/3 innings against the Astros, who have won the first two games in this four-game series.
"I was leaving the ball over the plate a little too much," Billingsley said. "[The] curveball was just staying up. You just have to forget about it and get ready for the next one."
The Dodgers' offense, meanwhile, remained in its post-All-Star break hibernation against Houston's Roy Oswalt (6-4), who threw a four-hitter one night after five Astros pitchers combined on a 3-0 shutout.
"Nobody said this was going to be easy," said Manny Ramirez, playing in his second home game since returning from his 50-game suspension. "We were up against one of the best pitchers in the game, and he pitched a heck of a game."
The Dodgers' only means of getting on the scoreboard against Oswalt was a gift run in the third inning, when Orlando Hudson hit a fly ball that Houston right fielder Hunter Pence lost in the sky, allowing the ball to drop untouched and giving Hudson a triple. Hudson then scored when Russell Martin grounded out.
Even so, the Dodgers maintained their 6 1/2 -game lead in the National League West over the San Francisco Giants, who also lost.
With the Dodgers already struggling to figure out who can fill the role of No. 5 starter in the rotation, the last two outings by Billingsley (9-5) have only added to their pitching concerns.
The 24-year-old right-hander gave up five runs in five innings in his previous start in Milwaukee, when he had no decision in a 12-8 Dodgers win.
And he hasn't won since June 14, failing six times to get his 10th victory of the season.
"It doesn't look like he's as sure of himself as he was," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said of Billingsley. "I'm not concerned about him. This is one we need to turn the page on."
In the first inning, after Billingsley dispensed with the first two batters, Miguel Tejada hit a home run, the first of six consecutive hits that also included a double by Pence.
After Houston's Michael Bourn and Kazuo Matsui reached base in the second inning, Tejada and Carlos Lee flied out, both hitting the ball hard off Billingsley.
So did the next batter, Geoff Blum, who slammed a double to the right-field wall. Bourn and Matsui scored, the crowd booed and Torre replaced Billingsley with Jeff Weaver.
Weaver pitched the next 4 1/3 innings, giving up two earned runs and four hits, including a home run by Ivan Rodriguez.
Juan Pierre, who filled in so well for Ramirez during his suspension, started in center field in place of Matt Kemp because Pierre had hit .353 lifetime against Oswalt. But Pierre's bat was silenced along with all the others Friday night as he was 0 for 4.