Dodgers get some relief

Times Staff Writer

The phone in the Dodgers’ bullpen rang only twice Monday night, once to inquire about the action in the opposing bullpen and once more to tell Eric Hull to warm up with one out remaining in the game.

Responsible for the rare silence was 22-year-old Chad Billingsley, who pitched the first complete game of his career on a night when the bullpen was so tired that Manager Grady Little considered using a starter in relief for the second consecutive day. But with Billingsley limiting the Houston Astros to five hits in a 10-2 victory at Minute Maid Park, Little was spared from asking Brett Tomko, or anyone else, to come out of the gates in left field.

Billingsley (7-0) came within an out of a shutout -- he served up a two-run home run to Luke Scott that prompted the call to Hull -- and threw only 109 pitches, which was four fewer than he threw in the five innings of his previous start. The Dodgers, who pounded four pitchers for 17 hits, took their first two-game lead in the National League West since May 19.

“He stepped up and did not only what the team needed but what the bullpen needed,” said Joe Beimel, the designated closer for the day. “It was real big for us to be able to sit down there and watch him do his thing.”


Said Little: “It’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.... It’s all we needed to get us back on track.”

There was another positive development for the bullpen: An MRI exam revealed no damage in the right shoulder of closer Takashi Saito.

Billingsley wasn’t in pristine condition, either, pitching with the remnants of a blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand. To prevent it from causing him problems, Billingsley passed up his usual side session between starts in favor of what he called “a couple of touch and feels.” He said he would probably do the same between this start and his next.

Asked if he was disappointed to lose the shutout, Billingsley shrugged.

“It’s still a complete game,” Billingsley said. “I was happy with it. I wanted to try to go deep in the game and give the bullpen a little bit of rest.”

Billingsley said the key for him was locating his fastball, which allowed him to get ahead on counts.

Astros starter Chris Sampson had no such fortune, giving up four runs in five innings.

Jeff Kent had his first four-hit game this season, doubling twice and driving in two runs in the process. Kent has reached base in 34 consecutive games, the longest streak in the majors this season.


Nomar Garciaparra, who turned 34, was three for five with a run and run batted in.

The scoring was capped in the ninth on a three-run homer by James Loney, who grew up in nearby Missouri City and had about 50 family members and friends in attendance.

Loney had never played at Minute Maid Park as a major leaguer but had done so as a high school senior. Then a left-handed power pitcher, Loney threw a one-hit shutout to move Elkins High past Kingwood in a 2002 regional championship game.

Loney admitted that with the Dodgers being short on arms, he had recently fantasized about taking the mound.


Before the game, Little was told of Loney’s history in the park.

“Don’t tell me that at this time, man,” Little said, smiling.

Would now be better?