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No Heart, No Soul, No Win for Dodgers

Times Staff Writer

Paul Lo Duca, one of the more popular Dodgers of recent years, was playing with a tender right hamstring. So when the Dodgers ran a double steal on the battered Florida catcher in the pivotal second inning Friday night, Lo Duca could barely stand up, let alone make a play.

“I tweaked it coming out of the crouch,” Lo Duca said. “It felt like somebody stuck a knife in my leg.”

Later, Lo Duca would stick a dagger in the Dodgers’ heart.

Lo Duca’s bases-loaded flare single down the right-field line in the seventh inning broke a scoreless tie and lifted the streaking Marlins to a 3-0 defeat of the Dodgers in the opener of a four-game series at Dolphins Stadium.

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The third-place Dodgers (55-66) not only became the third straight shutout victim of the Marlins (64-57), they also dropped to five games behind the National League West-leading San Diego Padres.

The Dodgers’ eighth shutout defeat this season also sullied a standout start by rookie right-hander D.J. Houlton (4-7), who took a perfect game into the fifth inning but was saddled with the loss after being charged with all three runs in 6 1/3 innings. He gave up three hits, struck out six and walked two.

The Dodgers have given him little support of late, scoring three runs in his last four starts.

“That’s just part of the game,” said Houlton, who has not won since June 27. “I can’t control it.

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“I had a good vibe, a good feeling. It was a nice mound, one of those feelings you get. It was a lot of fun there for a little bit.”

Houlton’s good times ended in the seventh.

Damion Easley doubled off the left-field wall to lead off and went to third on Miguel Cabrera’s fly out to deep center.

After intentionally walking Carlos Delgado, Houlton hit Juan Encarnacion to load the bases.

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Lo Duca then went the opposite way, hitting the first pitch -- an inside fastball -- to score Easley and Delgado before bending over at first and punching his hand in celebration.

Sweet redemption for beating the team that traded him away as part of a six-player deal last year?

“I’m over with that feeling,” said Lo Duca, who was often called the “heart and soul” of the Dodgers during 3 1/2 seasons as their starting catcher. “We’re in the middle of a race; so are they. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Dodgers or not.”

The Marlins are 4 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the NL East and a half-game behind Houston in the wild-card race.

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After Lo Duca’s hit, reliever Steve Schmoll replaced Houlton and induced a ground ball to short from Mike Lowell. But second baseman Antonio Perez, starting while Jeff Kent played first, could not turn an inning-ending double play as Lowell beat his relay to first and Encarnacion scored.

Florida’s A.J. Burnett (12-6) won his seventh straight start, striking out nine, walking one and giving up six hits in eight-plus innings to become the Marlins’ all-time victories leader with 49, breaking a tie with the Dodgers’ Brad Penny.

The Dodgers did threaten in the second inning, loading the bases with one out, but Jason Phillips went down swinging, as did Houlton.

“It seemed like he was throwing that split changeup,” said Phillips, who struck out twice against Burnett. “I’ve never seen it

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Said Dodger Manager Jim Tracy: “The game simply boiled down to this -- we had a chance in the second inning with bases loaded and came away empty. They got a bloop single to right, bases loaded, one out that scores two runs. We had a little something going in the ninth but Todd Jones put it down.”

Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent singled to begin the ninth and chased Burnett, who was replaced by Jones, the Marlin closer. Jones struck out Jayson Werth, Ricky Ledee and Jose Cruz Jr. in order for his 27th save.

The outcome was decided well before then, though.

“A.J. won the game,” Lo Duca said, “when he struck out Phillips and struck out Houlton.”

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