Road Woes Swept Away by Dodgers : Baseball: They beat the Astros again, 7-1, and maintain their one-game lead over the Giants atop the NL West.


The Dodgers are not sure what has caused the turnaround, and really, who cares? What they do know is that Sunday, playing aggressive baseball, they beat the Houston Astros, 7-1, sweeping the three-game series and sending the Texas team back home glad it doesn’t have to play in Dodger Stadium again this season.

The victory put the Dodgers even at 52-52 and improved their record against the Astros to 8-1, 6-0 at home. It also gave Ramon Martinez his 10th victory, equaling the number he had all last season. But it is the aggressive way Martinez pitched, the plays the defense made, and the way the Dodgers are not only hitting, but scoring, that had a Dodger Stadium crowd of 43,231 cheering.

The victory maintained the Dodgers’ one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West and increased their lead to 3 1/2 over the Colorado Rockies, who lost three games of a four-game series against the Giants.

“We are just playing the way we can play,” said Delino DeShields, whose run-scoring single in the sixth inning broke a 1-1 tie, the first Dodger run in a four-run inning.


"(The Astros) are a good team, but they got a little funky too, just like we did on the road. We haven’t gained any ground, though, it’s still a one-game race. I’d like to pick up a couple of games too.”

If the Dodgers could point to one thing that has caused their game to come together, they say it is the return home from a 3-10 trip.

“Just even coming in here (the Dodger clubhouse) on Friday we had a different attitude, and our attitude was fine, but getting off that trip was a relief,” said third baseman Tim Wallach, whose sacrifice fly in the fourth inning scored Brett Butler and put the Dodgers ahead, 1-0. Wallach’s double down the left field line in the sixth inning scored DeShields, putting the Dodgers ahead, 3-1.

The Dodgers’ transformation also coincided with the players union setting a strike date on Friday, but Wallach, among others, said that did not give the team a sense of urgency.


“It was the way we were playing that gave us a sense of urgency,” Wallach said. “If we had played the way we were playing on the road, we weren’t going anywhere.”

The Dodgers, though, also point to DeShields’ game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night as a change in their momentum. DeShields was two for four Sunday, also beating out a bunt single in the fourth inning that moved Butler into scoring position. Butler and DeShields pulled off a double steal with none out, moving Butler to third base. He scored easily on Wallach’s fly to left.

Sunday, it was Ramon Martinez (10-7) who deserved credit, holding the Astros to one run in eight-plus innings, doing so with a sore left palm suffered in the second inning on a line drive by James Mouton. It knocked Martinez’s glove off and knocked him down. Then he got up and collided with Wallach trying to retrieve the ball. Martinez lay on the ground for a few minutes, but said later he was fine. “I was taking a breather,” he said.

The Astros’ run came on Jeff Bagwell’s home run in the sixth inning, his 36th, though they had some other opportunities. But a key catch by Butler in the fourth inning and a big play by Mike Piazza and Rafael Bournigal in the third inning helped stop them.


With runners on second and third and none out, Bournigal, covering second base on a pickoff throw from Piazza, covered the bag with his right knee, which prevented Scott Servais from touching the bag with his left hand as he was trying to get back. A single by Steve Finley after Craig Biggio struck out would have scored Servais.

"(Biggio) missed the bunt and Servais was caught flat-footed and he was about half-way down the line,” Piazza said. “It was a . . . . throw, but it did the job, story of my year. But that was a big play, with runners on first and second and no one out. Raffi, as usual, made a great play.”

For the Astros, it was more of the same at Dodger Stadium. Before the series, the Astros had a half-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central. Sunday, they returned home in second place, trailing the Reds by 2 1/2 games.

“We came in here on a high note and played as absolutely flat as we possibly could,” Astro Manager Terry Collins said.


“For some reason, we can’t get anything going against this club. That’s not the way this team is.”

* GIANTS WIN: Matt Williams hit two homers, giving him 40 for the season, and totaled five runs batted in to fuel a 9-4 victory over the Rockies. C8

* BASEBALL TALKS: White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf broke ranks by saying he would be willing to have an agreement without a salary cap. C10