Determined Dodgers win ninth straight

Dodgers run win streak to nine

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers kept winning games after losing Manny Ramirez last year, so they know the drill now that Andre Ethier will be on the disabled list as long as six weeks.

They didn't let the official loss of Ethier to a broken finger, or a shaky start by Hiroki Kuroda, keep the win streak from reaching nine on Tuesday night with a 7-3 victory over the Astros and sweep of the two-game set.

With San Diego's loss, Los Angeles is one game out of first place in the National League West. Ten days earlier, they were last, six games back.

"We're playing well," said manager Joe Torre. "We have a nice confidence right now. We had a lot of contributors tonight, we did a lot of little things. We're not going to be the same without Ethier, but so far, so good."

Kuroda squandered a first-inning three-run lead but regrouped to go six innings and raise his record to 5-1 as Casey Blake, James Loney and Ramirez each drove in a pair of runs while the bullpen threw three more scoreless innings.

"Every team goes through adversity, and you hate to see it with one of the best hitters in the lineup," said Blake. "It changes the dynamics of the lineup a little bit, but we've got guys who can step in. We showed that the last few nights. Last year with Manny gone, it was Juan Pierre. We were a good team with Juan Pierre."

The nine-game streak is the longest for the Dodgers since 2006. They've won 11 of their last 12, and the opposition has been held to no more than three runs in each of the nine wins, the first time for a Dodgers team since 1980. This was the fourth win since Ethier's injury, and the winning streak is the longest for the Dodgers since they reeled off 11 straight in 2006.

"[Ethier] is just as much of a threat up there as Manny is, but that's not necessarily what wins games," said Russell Martin, whose hitting streak reached 13 games. "If we keep pitching and doing what we've been doing, we'll be tough to beat. Obviously, you'd rather have him in the lineup, but if you don't, you pick each other up and do what you can, each individual to best of his ability."

The Dodgers gave Kuroda a 3-0 first-inning lead with a two-out rally, Loney singling in two, stealing second and scoring on Blake's single. But Carlos Lee led off the bottom of the second with a home run to left field.

The Astros used a two-out rally in the third to tie the game, with Lee singling an 0-2 pitch up the middle with the bases loaded for two runs, but Kuroda shut down the Astros for the next 3 1/3 innings.

The Dodgers regained the lead in the fourth on Jamey Carroll's sacrifice fly to shallow right field that scored Loney.

Houston starter Bud Norris sealed his fate by walking Kuroda to lead off the fifth. Martin singled, Xavier Paul bunted them over, and with first base open, Houston manager Brad Mills had Norris pitch to Ramirez, whose two-run single chased Norris.

"Matt Kemp is no easy pickings," said Torre, who had Kemp batting behind Ramirez. "I'm glad I'm on this side and don't have to make that decision."

Said Norris: "First base is open, but I've got to attack there, and the guy on deck is no slouch either. I threw the pitch I wanted to throw, and he hit it. I got to tip my cap. He's Manny Ramirez."

Blake added a solo homer in the eighth, the 150th of his career and third hit of the game. Blake was hitting as high as .328 on April 25, but in the three weeks since, has hit .159 to bring his average down to .233 entering Tuesday's game.

"It's been frustrating," he said. "I was telling my wife about it. You want to do so well to help the team. I've gone down the path where I sit in beg and brood over it, driving myself crazy, lost a lot of sleep about my swing. I've tried that route. I hope I've gotten smarter with age, staying confident and patient. I know things are going to turn around and I'll come out on top of this thing."

A key play in the game was a running catch at the fence by left fielder Ramirez, who shaded Jeff Keppinger toward center field and ran down his two-out drive with a runner on first in the seventh off Ronald Belisario. On deck was Lance Berkman, and Torre said he would have brought on Hong-Chih Kuo to face him, earlier than desired, had Ramirez not caught the ball.

Instead, Kuo pitched a perfect eighth inning and over his last eight innings has allowed no runs, two hits with nine strikeouts. Ramon Troncoso pitched the ninth as the bullpen as turned in 15 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings over the last six games.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.