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Dodgers, Not the Astros, Play Like Last-Place Team : Baseball: Defense, Martinez have rough nights in 6-1 loss to Houston, which has won five in a row from Los Angeles. Lead remains at 1 1/2 games.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What is it about the Houston Astros that brings out the worst in the Dodgers?

“I don’t know. I have no idea,” Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda grumbled after Thursday’s 6-1 loss. “You tell me, then we’ll both know.”

The last-place Astros won their fifth consecutive game against the leaders of the National League West, sending a Dodger Stadium crowd of 42,829 home earlier than usual by scoring all their runs in the first four innings, roughing up Ramon Martinez on the way to their seventh victory in 11 games with the Dodgers this season.

The loss cost the Dodgers a chance to gain ground on the second-place Atlanta Braves, who lost to the San Diego Padres, 1-0, but stayed within 1 1/2 games. The San Francisco Giants took advantage of the losses to both teams, climbing to within six games.

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Martinez, who lasted only five innings, lost his third decision in a row to fall to 14-8. He has not won a game since July 30.

The Dodgers, who scored their only run in the second inning, went down somewhat meekly to right-hander Pete Harnisch, who tantalized them with an assortment of off-speed pitches to improve to 7-8. Harnisch did nearly as much hitting as the Dodger lineup, giving up five singles and putting three Dodgers on base by hitting them with pitches.

Astro outfielder Steve Finley paced the attack with four hits, including a three-run home run, his seventh of the season, to break the game open in the fourth.

Finley came to the Astros in a winter trade with the Baltimore Orioles, where he had a good-field, no-hit reputation he has belied this season. He raised his season average to .297 with his fifth career four-hit game. Two of them have come at Dodger Stadium. In his third season, he ranks as one of the veterans of the Astros, who have the youngest lineup in the majors.

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Finley has been a particular thorn to the Dodgers, victimizing them for a .444 average this year, with two home runs and eight runs batted in. In four games at Dodger Stadium he has gone 12 for 18 with two homers and four doubles.

“That his name--Finley?” Lasorda said. “I thought it was Ty Cobb. The guy’s killing us. He got near as many damn hits as we did.”

Finley said he is not picking on the Dodgers. “I don’t treat the Dodgers any differently,” he said. “We come in and we play just as hard as we play anyone else. (The Dodgers) are trying to win and we’ve been swinging the bats well and getting some good pitching lately. If you can’t win it, just try to keep someone else from winning it. I think we’ve proved we’re not just a triple-A club.”

August has proved a troublesome month for Martinez, who is 5-9 in August games for his career--the only month in which he has a losing record--and 0-3 this month, having given up 15 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings.

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Martinez appeared to have good stuff Thursday--he struck out six batters in his five innings of work--but early on it clearly wasn’t his day. The Astros scored twice in the first inning on Finley’s leadoff single, consecutive errors by Lenny Harris and Jose Offerman, a wild pitch and a run-scoring groundout.

The Dodgers came back with their only run in the second on a walk to Eddie Murray, a groundout and a run-scoring single by Gary Carter--who added his first stolen base of the season and second in five years--but that was the extent of the offense. They left the bases loaded in the fifth and stranded two more in the seventh.

Martinez was hit hard in the fourth, giving up three singles before Finley lined a home run over the right-field wall.

“I thought Ramon threw the ball good tonight. His velocity was better than I’ve seen in a while,” Lasorda said. “That first inning we made the errors, then he got the pitch to Finley in the wrong spot.”

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Martinez’s exit after five innings broke a string of nine games in which Dodger starters had gone at least six.

“We had a chance to gain some ground and didn’t, (but) that’s really the first game I remember we went up in the eighth or ninth without the tying or winning run at bat,” Lasorda said. “We’ve lost a lot of tough ballgames. Tonight’s the first night we were behind like that that early in the game.”

The Dodgers have three games to go with the Astros this weekend, but at least one Dodger seemed unconcerned.

“We’re still in first place,” Kal Daniels said. “Nobody’s caught us yet.”

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