Billingsley brilliant in Dodgers' victory
Righty allows three hits in 7 1/3 innings, improves to 4-0
HOUSTON -- Pitching and defense.
That's what it took to finally subdue the stubborn Houston Astros. Well, OK, mostly pitching.
The Dodgers had tried to punish Houston with their bats but found that the Astros were more than up to that challenge. So after two straight losses, the Dodgers went with a more minimal approach against the Astros Thursday night, and it worked.
The Dodgers, getting a masterful pitching performance from Chad Billingsley, avoided the sweep and snapped their two-game slide with a 2-0 victory over the Astros before a crowd of 26,081 at Minute Maid Park.
"How about the game that kid pitched tonight?" Dodgers manager Joe Torre of Billingsley's performance. "Wow. He was something, wasn't he?"
He certainly was, throwing 7 1/3 superb innings of three-hit ball, keeping the Astros off-balance and out-of-rhythm all night.
"I wanted to go deep into the game, and I really wanted to get a win out of this," said Billingsley, who hasn't lost a regular-season decision since Aug. 25 (5-0 to Philadelphia). "After losing the first two [games of the series], we needed to get back on track."
Billingsley was so into getting the Dodgers back on track that he didn't want to leave when Torre came calling in the eighth.
"He said, 'I don't want to give you the ball,'" Torre said. "I said, 'I know that, and there are going to be times when you're not going to have to, but not this time.'"
The Astros had seen quite enough of Billingsley (4-0) and were more than happy to see him depart.
"I probably have close to 20 at-bats off the guy and I have an idea of what he's got," Astros third baseman Geoff Blum said. "But tonight, it was electric. It was crazy, because I actually got in some good hitting counts and he still was throwing 90 miles an hour and what looked like a slider with depth, which is pretty impressive. He had us off-balance, he made pitches. He had it all working for him."
Billingsley became the first Dodgers pitcher to win his first four starts since Kaz Ishii, who began the 2002 season by winning his first six.
"Things are going well right now," Billingsley said. "I just go from start to start, trying to go out there and repeat everything. There are days when you don't have your best stuff up there, but that's when you have to compete with what you've got and try to keep the game close."
Torre said he would consider bringing closer Jonathan Broxton out of the bullpen a bit sooner than usual, and that's exactly what happened Thursday. Broxton came on with one out in the eighth inning for the save, the fifth five-out save of his career and his second of the season.
"The fact that he [Broxton] hadn't been out there since Saturday, I wanted to give him a little wiggle room out there," Torre said. "This is something you're not going to make a habit. You're going to make sure you're careful. You don't want to get in the habit of doing it. It has to be special circumstances to consider it."
A two-game losing streak to start the road trip certainly falls into the category of "special circumstances."
The Dodgers (11-5) scored their runs on a first-inning RBI single from Manny Ramirez, who extended his hitting streak to six games, and a seventh-inning RBI double from Casey Blake.
And it was up to Broxton to protect that lead. And on this night, it meant getting five outs rather than three.
"I'm going to do whatever it takes to help the team win," Broxton said. "Billingsley pitched big for us tonight and Joe wanted me to get five outs, so I went in there and got five outs."
Still, the Dodgers -- well, Broxton -- injected a bit of drama in the ninth inning.
After giving up a leadoff single to Miguel Tejada, Broxton fanned Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. But a pitch in the dirt was ruled to have struck Blum on the foot, putting runners at first and second with two outs. Both runners moved up when Broxton, facing Darin Erstad, uncorked a wild pitch.
But Broxton finally coaxed a bouncer to first from Erstad, ending the game and the Dodgers' mini losing streak.
"It's huge," Torre said. "Coming in, you obviously aspire to do more things, but after losing the first two -- and having [Wednesday's game] snatched away from you -- the only way you're going to turn it around is to have the type of game this kid [Billingsley] pitched tonight."
Michael Murphy is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.