Dodgers 1/2 Out of First After Ninth Straight

The Dodgers extended its season-long winning streak to nine games with a 7-3 win over Houston, beating the Astros in a series in Los Angeles for the first time since 2006. Hiroki Kuroda won his fifth game of the season with solid help from the bullpen. The win pulls them to just 1/2 game behind the division-leading Padres and Giants.

  This seems to be a group of players who feed off adversity. They weathered Manny Ramirez's 50-game drug suspension last season and went on to win the National League West title.

  On the day the Dodgers placed slugger Andre Ethier on the disabled list, the Dodgers swept their third consecutive series for the first time since 2006, when they took three straight from Washington at home before sweeping a six-game road trip at Cincinnati and Florida.

It was Kuroda's third consecutive decision and it gives him a 5-1 record. Over his last 16 starts, the 34-year-old is 10-3 and the Dodgers are 12-4. He worked six innings and allowed seven hits and all three runs. Ronald Belisario, Hong-Chih Kuo and Ramon Troncoso each added a hitless, scoreless inning.

  After a stumbling start, over the last nine games the pitching staff has held opponents to three runs for the first time since a 10-game stretch from April 20-30, 1980 and the Dodgers are 17-2 on the season when limiting the opposition to less than four runs.

The Dodger bullpen has turned in 15.1 consecutive scoreless innings over their last six games, while limiting opponents to a .100 average (5-for-50) with 13 strikeouts.

Casey Blake keyed the offensive attack when he slugged his 150th career home run and tied a season high for the third time with three hits. Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Blake each drove in a pair of runs and Russell Martin extended his career-long hitting streak to 13 games, batting .302 (16-for-53) since May 5.

James Loney moved into second place along with Kemp when stole his sixth base of the season, leaving him one shy of career high of seven, which he set in both 2008 and 2009. Rafael Furcal leads the club with eight.

  Kuroda, now 5-1, allowed three runs and seven hits over six innings, striking out two and walking one. All three Houston runs were driven in by Carlos Lee, who included a solo homer. The Astros finished their eight-game road trip with five straight losses after a three-game sweep at St. Louis. They have lost 16 of its last 21, and are an in the National League cellar with a 13-26 record.

Ethier leads the majors with a .392 average and 38 RBIs. He went on the DL for the first time in his five-year career ironically before the sellout crowd of 55,662 received bobblehead dolls with his likeness as they entered the ballpark.

Another Early Lead
Los Angeles jumped into a 3-0 lead in the first inning when Ramirez walked with two out, Kemp doubled into he right-field corner and Loney drove them both in with a single. After he stole second, Blake dropped a single into center field for the third run.

Kuroda allowed a leadoff homer in the second inning to Lee, then loaded the bases in the third with two out and Lee ripped a single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch to tie the game. Kuroda re-loaded the bases on an infield hit but got out of the jam with a ground ball.

He gave up two singles and no runs over the next three innings and left the game with a 6-0 lead.

Shortstop Jamey Carroll broke the 3-3 tie with a sacrifice fly in the fourth after Loney walked and was singled to third by Blake. The Dodgers added two more in the fifth when Kuroda walked and Martin singled, Xavier Paul, just called up from Albuquerque, bunted them into scoring position and Ramirez cashed them in with a single to left.

The seventh, and final, run of the evening came when Blake homered with two out in the eighth, his fourth long ball of the season.

"When I go through stretches where I'm more consistent with my timing, I'm going to hit the ball better," Blake, who came in batting just .159 since hitting two home runs on April 24 at Washington, told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. "The way I hit requires pretty good timing. Hitting is timing, and when you don't have it, you're going to go through some rough stretches and start doubting yourself.

"It's a battle I've had pretty much my whole career here," Blake added. "I've gone down the path where I've sat up in bed and night and just brooded over it. I drove myself crazy and lost a lot of hours of sleep thinking about my swing and lack of success. Now I'm trying to stay patient and confident and know that things are going to turn around."

Dodger Blue Notes -- Matt Kemp was thrown out trying to steal second base in the third and has been caught stealing eight times in 14 attempts, matching the number of times he was thrown out last season when he stole 34 bases. ...The Dodgers have won 13 of their last 16 games dating back to April 30 for the best mark in baseball during that span (.813). The Dodgers and Phillies are a Major League-best 12-3 in the month of May. ...Martin's 13-game hitting streak is the longest current streak in the Major Leagues. ...Dodger closer Jonathan Broxton has six saves in the Dodgers' last 10 games after saving only one in the first 28. Broxton has fanned 23 batters in 15.2 innings and has tossed scoreless baseball in 15 of 16 outings. ...Former Dodgers second baseman Eric Young, who joined the club in 1992 and played from 1997-99 celebrated his 43rd birthday. Young is currently the Astros' minor league outfield and baserunning roving instructor. "EY's" son, Eric Young Jr., is an outfielder for the Colorado Rockies. ...Dodger Hall of Fame manager and Special Advisor to the Chairman Tommy Lasorda was in Midland, MI tonight, paying a special visit to the Great Lakes Loons. The Loons honored Lasorda at Dow Diamond on Aug. 11, 2009 by retiring his No. 2 and renaming a premium outdoor seating area ‘Lasorda's Landing.'

Probable Pitching Matchups
The Dodgers host the NL West division-leading San Diego Padres and the AL Central's Detroit Tigers over the next six games. In a quirk of scheduling, the game pitchers who faced each other in the recent series at San Diego, will meet again in Dodger Stadium. Tonight former Dodger Jon Garland (4-2, 1.88) will go against RHP Ramon Ortiz (1-1, 5.40). Tomorrow night it will be RHP Kevin Correia (4-3, 4.35) vs. LHP Clayton Kershaw (3-2, 3.55).

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