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Dodgers Cash Their Check for 8-7 Win : Baseball: Murray’s single beats Astros in 10th after Carter’s home run ties it in ninth. Strawberry also homers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When is the winning pitcher not the winning pitcher?

In the Dodgers’ case, it was Saturday night, when they ended a 4-hour, 6-minute game with a 10th-inning run to defeat the Houston Astros, 8-7.

The winning rally was started by pitcher Kevin Gross, who led off because the Dodgers had run out of pinch-hitters. Gross, who was scheduled to pitch the 11th, singled up the middle off Dwayne Henry (3-1), went to second when Darryl Strawberry walked and scored the winning run on Eddie Murray’s check-swing single past third, his fourth run batted in of the game.

The victory went to Jay Howell (5-4) and allowed the Dodgers to maintain their 1 1/2-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League West.

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The 10th-inning heroics made up for a multitude of earlier mistakes in a game that saw 12 pitchers used.

For the third time this month, Astro shortstop Rafael Ramirez knocked in a crucial run off John Candelaria, this time with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly that produced a 7-6 lead for Houston.

But Gary Carter led off the bottom of the ninth with his sixth home run to tie the score, 7-7.

Strawberry, warming to the pennant race, had hit his second home run in two nights against the Astros to produce a 5-5 tie midway through the game.

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His two-run fifth-inning blast earned him a loud standing ovation from a sellout Dodger Stadium crowd of 46,001, and gave the Dodgers a boost as they continue to try to hold off the Braves, who won in San Diego, 2-1.

However, the Astros have been major obstacles in the Dodgers’ path to the pennant, and Javier Ortiz’s first home run of the season gave the Astros a 6-5 lead in the seventh inning.

Strawberry led off the seventh with a walk and Murray followed with a double into the right-field corner, but Strawberry got the stop sign from third base coach Joe Amalfitano, and never got farther as Juan Samuel struck out and Carter and Mitch Webster popped out.

The Dodgers tied the score in the eighth, though it was hardly a scintillating rally. They loaded the bases on a single and two walks and Al Osuna walked Murray on four pitches to bring in a run.

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Before the game, Strawberry spoke of doing the things that win games--moving runners, scoring men from third--and the Dodgers appeared ready to do so from the start Saturday, unlike their past two games with the Astros, when they fell behind early.

“People are coming in here and playing hard to beat us because we’re in first,” Strawberry said. “Everybody wants us. We have to focus on taking it to them and playing good fundamental ball.”

The Dodgers scored twice in their first at-bat. Brett Butler led off with an infield single and Lenny Harris walked. Strawberry moved both into scoring position with a grounder to the right side, and Murray followed with his 20th double of the season for a 2-0 lead.

They failed to execute as efficiently in the third inning, when Butler again led off with an infield hit and worked his way around to third with one out. This time, Strawberry couldn’t pull the trigger on a Ryan Bowen breaking ball and looked at a third strike, and Murray also struck out.

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Dodger starter Bob Ojeda, who had pitched into the seventh inning in 12 of his past 19 starts, couldn’t hold the lead, giving up a run in the second and four more in the fourth.

Ojeda was hurt by his second-inning leadoff walk to Mike Simms, who scored on two singles and a sacrifice fly by Andujar Cedeno, and he failed to survive the fourth when he was hit hard, giving up four hits as the Astros built the lead to 5-2.

The Houston rally featured a hard leadoff single by Ortiz, a hard liner by Casey Candaele that went for a double when it eluded a diving Daniels, a run-scoring grounder by Cedeno that was booted by Harris, another hard single by Craig Biggio that scored two more and one more line single by Jeff Bagwell, which proved to be the finish for Ojeda.

In the rally, Biggio provided his own lesson in heads-up play, taking second on a foul pop out to get into scoring position.

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The Dodgers came back with a run in the bottom of the inning, scoring on Butler’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly, but they stranded two more runners.

It was the Astros hustling for an extra base again in the fifth, when Simms doubled and took third on a foul pop near the first-base stands. Simms was thrown out trying to score on a grounder to second as Mike Scioscia blocked him off the plate.

There was no defense for Strawberry’s two-run homer off Bowen in the bottom of the fifth, after a leadoff single by Daniels. Strawberry hit a shot deep into the right-field pavilion to tie the game, 5-5, and a batter later Bowen was out of the game.

It was Strawberry’s 18th home run of the season and eighth against the Astros.

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