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Houston Has No Problem

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers will receive a player to be named later in the trade that brought utility player Tyler Houston from the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday. As an added bonus, they got a player to be named sooner, a guy by the name of Adrian Beltre.

Houston made his Dodger debut at first base Friday night, and the pilot light under the underachieving Beltre turned into a raging flame.

Houston, who is expected to take playing time away from Beltre at third base, got hits in his first three at-bats, and Beltre followed each with a big hit of his own, leading the Dodgers to an 11-6 pounding of the San Francisco Giants before 41,675 in Pac Bell Park.

Houston finished with four hits, including a two-run triple in the first inning, and four runs batted in, and Beltre had four hits, including a three-run triple in the second, and four RBIs to lift the Dodgers out of their offensive morass for at least one night.

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Mark Grudzielanek added four hits, all singles, and two RBIs, as the Dodgers amassed 18 hits, one shy of their season high, and scored their most runs since an 11-5 win over Colorado on June 3.

The Dodgers moved into sole possession of second place in the National League West but remain four games behind first-place Arizona.

“That was a lot of fun,” Houston said. “It was fun enough being part of the Dodgers, but it was nice to be part of a great rivalry, to be yelled at and told I stink.”

Houston’s boost was exactly what the Dodgers envisioned when they acquired him for two minor league pitchers. They needed a left-handed batter to punch up an offense that had scored 37 runs in 14 games after the All-Star break, an average of 2.6 runs, and Houston came through with four hits in his first four at-bats as a Dodger.

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The Dodgers also hoped Houston’s presence would motivate Beltre, whose average, until Friday night, hadn’t risen above .240 since June 28 and whose lack of discipline at the plate and occasional lackadaisical play in the field have so frustrated the Dodgers they explored a trade for Phillies’ third baseman Scott Rolen last week.

But Beltre seemed to take each Houston hit as a challenge Friday night, coming through with his first four-hit game since May 13 and setting a season high for RBIs.

Was there a correlation between Houston’s performance and Beltre’s performance?

“I’ll let you decide,” Manager Jim Tracy said.

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Asked if he may have sparked Beltre, Houston said, “Maybe ... if that’s what it takes to get it done, fine. The objective here is to win.”

Tracy was especially pleased with the quality of Beltre’s at-bats. He stroked an RBI single over the second baseman’s head in the first and drove his three-run triple to the gap in right-center in the second. He singled to right-center in the fourth, his third hit to the opposite field, and lined a singled off the pitcher’s foot in the eighth.

“That’s what we’ve been stressing for a long time,” Tracy said. “We know how good he is. We want him to understand how good he is.”

The Giants weren’t very good Friday night, but they didn’t field exactly a varsity team. San Francisco’s outfield--Barry Bonds, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Reggie Sanders--was sidelined because of strained right hamstrings, and Shinjo was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday. First baseman J.T. Snow did not start because of flu-like symptoms, and catcher Benito Santiago was out because of a sty in his eye.

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Friday night’s starting lineup included Tony Torcato, who was making his major-league debut in right field, Ramon Martinez in left field, Tom Goodwin in center, Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate and Damon Minor at first.

San Francisco Giants? This was more like the San Francisco (They Might Be) Giants. And it showed.

Goodwin, the former Dodger who will never be confused with a Gold Glove winner, appeared to have a chance to catch Houston’s first-inning triple over his head but missed after an awkward leap at the wall.

Torcato took an awful route on Beltre’s second-inning triple, giving himself no chance for a catch, and he dropped Paul Lo Duca’s fly ball over his head in the third, a ball that hit his glove and was generously scored a double.

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The Dodgers were much better in the clutch, scoring all three of their runs in the first and all five in the second after two were out.

Brian Jordan also knocked in a run with a groundout in the fifth, the first RBI out of the Dodgers’ cleanup spot in 15 games since the All-Star break.


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