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DODGERS 5, HOUSTON 2

Dodgers' win makes it a happy birthday for Joe Torre

Clayton Kershaw pitches seven shutout innings as Dodgers beat Astros, 5-2, on their manager's 69th birthday.

July 19, 2009|JIM PELTZ

Asked whether he received anything notable for his 69th birthday Saturday, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said the tributes mainly were cards, telephone calls and text messages.

But the Dodgers hadn't taken the field yet.

Once they did, Clayton Kershaw handed the big leagues' oldest manager the perfect present by throwing seven innings of shutout ball to lead the Dodgers past the Houston Astros, 5-2, at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers' batters, so stingy with hits of late, also proved to be in a more giving mood on Torre's day and provided Kershaw the support he needed in front of 48,298.

And even Houston starter Mike Hampton got in on the act, handing Torre and the Dodgers a gift run with a freak mistake born of frustration.

"It's weird how baseball works sometimes," Kershaw said. "I got ahead of some hitters. Just one of those nights, [they] hit some hard balls right at people.

"And any time you get runs early in the game is awesome."

The Dodgers' relievers were wobbly the last two innings, but "we felt with a five-run lead our bullpen could do it," Torre said. "It was a little hairy for a while but we did it."

All of which enabled the Dodgers to post their first win since the All-Star break and to again avoid their first three-game losing streak this season.

Houston had won the first two games of the four-game series.

The Dodgers (57-34) also maintained the best record in baseball and widened their lead in the National League West to 7 1/2 games over San Francisco.

Kershaw, who gave up just two hits in his seven innings of work, has made a stunning rebound since June 10.

That's when he was lifted from a game against the San Diego Padres while losing, 3-1 -- with a 2-0 count on the opposing pitcher, no less -- after throwing 83 pitches in only 2 2/3 innings.

Since then, the 21-year-old left-hander has made strides in conquering his pitch-count woes (he made 103 Saturday), and he's unbeaten in his last seven starts, picking up five wins and posting an earned-run average of 0.63, the best in baseball in that time.

The Dodgers, nursing a 2-0 lead, ensured Kershaw's victory with a three-run sixth inning.

Orlando Hudson singled and took third on Manny Ramirez's double. After Casey Blake was intentionally walked to load the bases, Hudson scored on a fielder's choice when Matt Kemp hit a grounder to shortstop and Ramirez was forced out at third.

Mark Loretta's single to left field, scoring Blake from second.

Then, after the ball came back to Hampton, the frustrated veteran intended to throw it hard into his glove. But the ball skipped off his glove and rolled away, allowing Kemp to jog home.

Hampton, 36, hadn't started against the Dodgers since 2005, having missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons because of two elbow surgeries.

Houston got back in the game in the eighth inning against the bullpen. Chris Coste doubled off of James McDonald, who then threw a wild pitch allowing Coste to reach third. Jason Michaels singled him home.

McDonald was replaced by Brent Leach, who uncorked another wild pitch to pinch-hitter Darin Erstad, allowing Michaels to reach second base.

Erstad singled and, when center fielder Juan Pierre bobbled the ball, Michaels scored as well.

Houston loaded the bases in the ninth against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, but he struck out pinch-hitter Ivan Rodriguez to end the game.

The Dodgers scored in the first inning when Rafael Furcal singled and Hudson hit a line drive that got past Astros left fielder Carlos Lee, turning it into an RBI triple. Hudson then scored on Kemp's single.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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