Johnson's mammoth three-run home run in the sixth inning was the difference, as the Dodgers fell to the Astros, 3-2, on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, sending Los Angeles to its sixth straight loss.
"It's the same old story," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "We put so much pressure on our starting pitching."
And for good reason. The Dodgers aren't hitting. They managed only four hits on Thursday, including Andre Ethier's 21st home run of the season, a two-run first-inning clout off Bud Norris.
Ethier reached base all four times, with three walks. He was on deck when Jamey Carroll lined out to left to end the game and make Norris (7-8) the winner and Lilly (8-10) the loser, snapping his seven-game winning streak against the Astros.
"I didn't get the job done when the game was on the line," said Lilly, who allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings. "It wasn't good enough."
Lilly struck out Johnson the first two times he faced him. But Johnson sent a 3-2 fastball from Lilly over the railroad tracks in left field in the sixth. It was the ninth pitch in the at-bat for Johnson.
"I definitely wanted to throw a strike there," Lilly said. "Ideally, give it a little more elevation, a little more in. Pitching out of jams is part of what you do. You're not going to win too many games if you can't pitch out of jams."
Johnson's home run was definitely the game-changer. And it wasn't cheap. The rookie third baseman, who is batting .323, blasted the fastball for his eighth homer of the season.
"I was telling Baggy [Astros hitting coach Jeff Bagwell] that I didn't even feel it," Johnson said. "It's just one of those swings where you really don't feel the ball hit the bat and you know it right away. It felt good.
"Inheriting two strikeouts is not a good way to start out the game. But that at-bat, I was trying to battle. I screwed up the at-bat before with guys at second and third with one out and didn't get any of those guys in. So with guys on, I wanted to come up with the big hit, and I did."
Aside from his homer, Johnson struck out three times, and his throwing error in the first inning put Carroll at first base with one out. The following batter was Ethier, who homered.
Off to a 2-0 lead after Ethier's homer, Torre felt the Dodgers were ready to end their losing streak.
"Two runs in the first inning, I felt we're into something," Torre said.
But the Dodgers' bats became silent. They did load the bases in the seventh inning with one out but failed to score. Scott Podsednik, Carroll, Ethier and James Loney, the first four hitters in the lineup, got the Dodgers' four hits.
It's becoming a pattern for the Dodgers: few hits and more losses. Since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have had two six-game losing streaks and one five-game losing streak.
At 69-72, the Dodgers are only 1 1/2 games better than the Astros (67-73). The Dodgers are 20-32 since the All-Star break. In Wednesday's 4-0 loss at San Diego, the Dodgers had only three hits. The game before, they had only five hits in a 2-1 loss to the Padres.
"It's hard to win games like that," Loney said. "The winning teams, they struggle, but not all at the same time. That's what we've been having. We've showed before we can put up runs."
Just not recently. The Dodgers have lost eight out of nine games.
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less