Kemp homer gives Dodgers split vs. Astros

Matt Kemp and the Los Angeles Dodgers keep winning the close ones.

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Kemp hit a tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning, Brad Ausmus had a pair of RBI doubles and the Dodgers beat the Houston Astros 4-3 on Sunday to split their four-game series and improve to 19-9 in one-run decisions.

“We always find ways to win and we never get down,” Kemp said. “Everybody keeps grinding. We want to win bad. We don’t want that bad taste in our mouths of what happened last year with Philly (in the NLCS), and we’re hungry. We’re capable of doing some big things and hopefully we can get to where we need to go.”

Kemp drove a 3-2 slider from LaTroy Hawkins (1-4) into the left-field pavilion for his 12th homer, capping a big day at the plate. He finished with three hits and tied a career high by scoring four runs.

Ramon Troncoso (4-0) pitched a perfect eighth to extend his streak to 16 innings without allowing an earned run. Jonathan Broxton did likewise in the ninth for his 22nd save in 24 attempts as Los Angeles improved baseball’s best record to 58-34.

“It was great that we came back and split the series after losing the first two,” Broxton said. “Today we just battled the whole game and finally got the lead. We’ve got a good pitching staff and we have batters that can always keep us in there if we just keep it close.”

Astros rookie reliever Alberto Arias, who came in with a scoreless streak of 21 1-3 innings, committed two costly errors that led to the tying run in the seventh after he inherited a 3-2 lead from starter Russ Ortiz.

Arias would have had three errors in the inning had first baseman Chris Coste not scooped the right-hander’s low throw out of the dirt on a sacrifice bunt by Ausmus. Blake DeWitt followed with a grounder to first and Coste flipped to Arias, who dropped the ball at the bag as Kemp went to third.

Rafael Furcal then hit a bouncer to the right of the mound, but the ball fell out of Arias’ hand as he cocked his arm to throw to the plate. Furcal was credited with an RBI. The run was unearned, despite the errors by Arias, who has not allowed an earned run in 24 innings spanning his last 20 appearances.

“We had a perfect setup there, for Arias to go in the seventh,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “He’s been pretty solid, but he just mishandled a couple of balls. I thought he tried to hurry on the last one. But those things happen. He’ll learn from that – but my focus is on the fact that he pitched well.”

The Dodgers‘ 1-4 hitters were 0 for 14, including two strikeouts by Manny Ramirez. The slugger was 2 for 14 with no RBIs and five strikeouts in his first home series since his 50-game drug suspension ended.

“I don’t think he’s swinging the bat the way he was prior to the All-Star break, so he didn’t do as much damage,” Ausmus said. “He may be the one guy that the break kind of hurt a little bit.”

Ortiz allowed two runs and five hits in six innings. His last win as a starter was April 26 against Milwaukee.

Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda gave up three runs and seven hits over five innings.

The Astros grabbed a 3-0 lead in the third. Michael Bourn led off with a double, Carlos Lee drove him in with a two-out single and Geoff Blum sent a 2-0 pitch to right for his third homer.

The Dodgers got one back in the bottom half with a double by Ausmus after Kemp drew a leadoff walk and stole second. Kemp’s stolen base was his 20th this season, but only his second over his last 22 games. He had 35 last year, his first full season in the big leagues.

Ausmus drove in Kemp again with a fifth-inning double that cut Houston’s lead to 3-2.

Astros first baseman Lance Berkman didn’t start for the third straight game because of a left calf strain. First baseman-outfielder Darin Erstad and second baseman Kaz Matsui also sat out with hamstring problems.


Broxton has converted his last 20 save opportunities at Dodger Stadium, including 11 this season. His last blown save at home was May 25, 2008, against St. Louis. … Dodgers 2B Orlando Hudson, a three-time Gold Glove winner, left after five innings because of an injured left wrist. … Guillermo Mota‘s intentional walk to Blum in the seventh was the 40th by the Dodgers‘ staff, most in the majors. … Dodgers home run and RBI leader Andre Ethier fouled a pitch off his right knee in the sixth and spent a few minutes on the ground in pain before singling with two outs. He finished with three hits.