Astros blast off to best Greinke, Dodgers
HOUSTON -- Reverting back to its customary homer-happy offense, Houston knocked Dodgers ace Zack Greinke for two home runs, and Scott Kazmir skirted sixth-inning trouble to propel the Astros to a 3-1 victory on Saturday to claim the series in front of 39,999 in Minute Maid Park.
The loss ended a string of 11 unbeaten starts by Greinke, whose ERA jumped from 1.58 to 1.67 -- still best in the Majors. A night after getting no-hit by the Astros' Mike Fiers, the Dodgers managed seven hits, but could only cash in on one of them -- a sixth-inning RBI single by Justin Turner.
Greinke, who had allowed just eight home runs and never more than one in a start, left a full-count four-seam fastball over the plate in the second, which Luis Valbuena deposited into the right-field bullpen to put the Astros up, 2-1.
"[Home runs], it's how their team plays," Greinke said. "I had some good pitches, just not quite good enough today."
Jose Altuve added a shot of his own into the Crawford Boxes in the sixth, giving the streaking Astros pitching staff all the support it'd need. The two hits to Altuve and Valbuena's homer were the only hits surrendered by Greinke -- who retired 16 of the final 17 batters he faced -- and the Dodgers' bullpen.
"Clearly we had to do something unique to get to him," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "This guy's very effective, and I think laying off a couple good pitches, I think we made him work. I don't think he elevated the fastball like he wanted to, but our guys like winning, we don't care who it's against."
Kazmir carried a no-hitter into the fourth before Jimmy Rollins broke it up with a single. Rollins added a leadoff double in the sixth and scored on Turner's single before Kazmir shut the door on a potential rally, handing the ball to the Astros' bullpen, which fired three scoreless frames.
With the win, the Astros remained four games ahead of the Rangers in the American League West, and are 4 1/2 ahead of the Angels, who fell to the Blue Jays on Saturday night. The Dodgers remained 1 1/2 games ahead of the Giants in the National League West.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Houston hunters: Asked earlier this week how to hit tough pitchers like Greinke, Astros manager A.J. Hinch mentioned hunting the few mistakes, if any, the aces would make. Greinke made only two, but the Major League-leaders in home runs magnified them, launching two homers off Greinke -- the first time a team has done that since Aug. 23, 2014.
Altuve also added a leadoff triple, his first of the season and just the third Greinke has surrendered.
"I think that relaxes the dugout a little bit," Hinch said of Altuve's triple. "Just being the first to capitalize on something. Then the two home runs, that's about it. We have three runs, they all scored ... we punched out a couple times, but we really battled [Greinke] and made him work a little bit early. I guess this is the definition of taking advantage of every opportunity." More >
Scott saves the sixth: With a run already in, Kazmir surrendered a one-out single to Adrian Gonzalez to put the tying run at second. After a visit from Astros pitching coach Brett Strom, Kazmir fanned Scott Van Slyke on three straight changeups before getting Chase Utley to bounce out to second, quelling the threat and escaping the sixth for the first time in his last three starts.
"Felt like I was able to attack the strike zone, which last couple starts it was a little bit of a trouble on hitting my spots," Kazmir said. "That [sixth inning] is huge. You get three off of him, you gotta capitalize on it. To be able to get out of that inning with just one run, it's huge."
The boys in blue: The double-play duo of Utley and Rollins are reunited again in Dodger blue and, for one night, they flashed glimpses of their prolific Phillies glory days. Utley notched his first hit with the club in just his second game, a reviewed ground-rule double, and made a nice diving grab before throwing out Jason Castro at first. Rollins slapped a pair of hits -- including the 500th double of his career -- and he scored the Dodgers' only run of the game.
"It's our confidence that matters," said Rollins about the team's recent offensive swoon. "Experience helps there, but this group knows we can hit the ball. Sometimes, it really does come down to getting one big swing and it'll get rolling." More >
Craig Biggio was presented in front of a sold-out crowd at Minute Maid Park during a pregame ceremony to give Astros fans their opportunity to celebrate his Hall of Fame induction. More >
"I'd like to answer that question, but I don't really know. I feel like I'm the same kind of player I was a couple years ago, and I just swing the bat and somehow it happens." -- Altuve, on his power surge this season
"We had worked [Kazmir's] pitch count, got it up there pretty good in that sixth inning. That was our opportunity to put two or three up on the board, and we just didn't get that extra hit we needed." -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Altuve's homer gave him 10 for the season -- the first time in his career he's had double-digit home runs -- and gave the Astros nine players with double-digit blasts. That ties the club record, which was set in 2000.
ON FURTHER REVIEW
• Mattingly lost a challenge in the fourth inning, when Rollins singled and was tagged out at second base on the trying to stretch it into a double. Replay took approximately one minute, 31 seconds to confirm the call. Mattingly now has an 11-for-33 success rate on challenges this season.
• Hinch followed with a challenge of his own in the fifth after Utley smoked a 2-2 pitch down the right-field line that was initially ruled a triple. Replay showed the ball bounced over the right-field fence, hit the foul pole, and ricocheted back into play, overturning the call and giving Utley a ground-rule double -- making him the first Dodger to advance past first base in the series.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw gets the ball for the Dodgers, who will look to avoid a sweep in Sunday's 11:10 a.m. PT finale. The lefty has been nothing short of splendid during the season's second half, allowing five runs in six starts since the All-Star break. He's coming off a no-decision after allowing one run in seven innings against the A's in Tuesday's 5-4 loss.
Astros: Rookie Lance McCullers, Jr. will be recalled to start Sunday's series finale at 1:10 p.m. CT. McCullers was optioned to Double-A Corpus Christi on Aug. 3 to limit his innings, after the Rangers tagged him for seven hits and six earned runs in one-third of an inning. More >
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