Astros lose to Dodgers, ending 51-year NL rivalry
LOS ANGELES—Much has been made already of the Houston Astros' impending shift to the American League next season. Their eventful 51-year NL rivalry with the Los Angeles Dodgers ended on Sunday, leaving plenty of memories behind for those old enough to remember and cherish the watershed games they've played against each other.
The Astros' 5-1 loss was not one of them, despite Jerry Hairston Jr. getting a career-high five hits for the Dodgers.
Houston starter J.A. Happ deserved a better fate after tying a career high with 10 strikeouts and allowing three runs over 6 1-3 innings. But the Astros managed only two hits against Chris Capuano during the left-hander's seven innings of work.
One of the runs charged to Happ was unearned due to the second of two fielding errors by third baseman Chris Johnson on routine grounders. But despite his defensive difficulties, Johnson will miss coming to Dodger Stadium on a yearly basis until their first interleague series, whenever that might be. To mark the occasion, organist Nancy Bea Hefley played "Yellow Rose of Texas" while the Astros' starting lineup was announced.
"Coming here has been fun. They have pretty good crowds and there's been a lot of history in this ballpark. So we're going to miss it. It will be different," Johnson said. "For us young guys, all we know is the National League game. So it's definitely going to be strange. But it's a game of adjustments."
Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully has witnessed plenty of memorable games involving the Astros -- several involving Fernando Valenzuela, who is in his 10th season in the adjoining booth as an analyst on the Dodgers' Spanish-language broadcasts.
Valenzuela spent his first day in the big leagues at the Astrodome after the Dodgers him from the minors in September 1980. His first big league start was against Astros on opening day 1981 at Dodger Stadium, when he filled in for the injured Jerry Reuss and pitched a five-hit shutout -- the official start of "Fernandomania."
Valenzuela also became a 20-game winner for the only time in his career with a complete-game 9-2 victory at the Astrodome in 1986, the same year he tied Carl Hubbell's All-Star game record with five consecutive strikeouts -- also at the `Dome.
In 1980, when the Astros and Dodgers were both in the NL West, Houston took a three-game lead into their final series of the regular season and lost all three in Los Angeles before winning a one-game tiebreaker the following day on Joe Niekro's 7-1 win over Dave Goltz and Art Howe's four RBIs.
When Dusty Baker homered on the final day of the 1977 season to give the Dodgers the first 30-homer foursome in history, he did it against the Astros' J.R. Richard at Chavez Ravine. Then there was the no-hitter Nolan Ryan pitched against the Dodgers in Houston in 1981.
"I will miss the memories," Scully said on Sunday. "It's been a great organization, originally owned by Roy Hofheinz, who built the Astrodome and was the most imaginative man since Bill Veeck. And you couldn't possibly think of the Astros without what we used to call the `Killer Bs' -- Bagwell, Biggio and Berkman. I'm sure the older fans hate the idea of them going to the American League, and the younger fans are thinking the other way: `Oh, great. We'll see the Yankees. We'll see the Red Sox.' So it might be a divided city."
Happ (4-4) is 0-3 with a 2.82 ERA in four career starts against the Dodgers who tied the score 1-all in the second on a two-out RBI single by Tony Gwynn Jr. and took the lead in the fourth on a leadoff homer by Matt Treanor that deflected off center fielder Justin Maxwell's glove as he made a leaping attempt in left-center.
"He was in trouble a lot," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "Out of his 10 strikeouts, nine were with runners in scoring position. That tells you right there that he was in trouble almost every inning."
Capuano (7-1) pitched two-hit ball over seven innings and struck out eight. It was the eighth time in his last nine starts that he allowed fewer than three runs. The 33-year-old left-hander improved to 5-0 at home with a 1.36 ERA.
"The guy's good, man. He's been pitching good all year and he's one of the better pitchers you're going to face," Johnson said. "His changeup's nasty. I would consider him an ace on a lot of teams."
Jose Altuve lined Capuano's first pitch of the game past a diving Gwynn in center field for a triple, and scored when shortstop Dee Gordon made a diving stop of Jed Lowrie's grounder up the middle and threw him out.
"Lowrie hits that ball up the middle and Gordon makes a nice play to stop the inning from continuing to move on. That was a huge play of the game right there," Mills said. "We had something going, and Capuano was still trying to find himself."
Altuve's fourth triple of the season was Houston's only hit until Lowrie's two-out single in the sixth. Capuano threw only 67 pitches through the first five innings, 32 fewer than teammate Chad Billingsley made through five in his no-decision on Saturday night, when the Dodgers won 6-3 on a three-run homer in the ninth by A.J. Ellis.
NOTES: The most significant trade between the Dodgers and Astros was the one that sent CF Jimmy Wynn to Los Angeles for LHP Claude Osteen on December 6, 1973, when both clubs were NL West rivals.