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Kemp's late blast lifts Dodgers to win

Kemp's late blast lifts Dodgers to win

LOS ANGELES -- Brad Ausmus doubled home Matt Kemp twice, sacrificed him into scoring position for a third run, then watched from the on-deck circle as Kemp slugged the tiebreaking homer with two out in the bottom of the eighth of Sunday's 4-3 Dodgers win over the Astros.

And none of Kemp's 3-for-3 with four runs scored, a walk and stolen base surprised Ausmus.

"He's been the most consistent hitter we've had all year from the first game to today," said Ausmus, who is hitting .305 as Russell Martin's mentor and backup. "His temperament is even-keel, he plays hard, he's a phenomenal outfielder in a premier position. He's 6-3, 230 and probably the fastest person on the team. He could have been a tight end in the NFL. If he stays the course, he could have a great career. He's been the biggest piece and the most consistent piece from day one."

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The Dodgers won this game despite an injury to second baseman Orlando Hudson's surgically repaired left wrist; despite a hitless game from Manny Ramirez, who went 2-for-14 with five strikeouts in his first home series since serving a 50-game suspension for violating the Major League Baseball drug policy; and despite a five-inning start from Hiroki Kuroda, who spotted the Astros a 3-0 lead in the third inning, with Geoff Blum slugging a two-run homer. In his past three starts, Kuroda is winless with an 8.47 ERA.

"I had a runner every inning, so yeah, my rhythm wasn't really there," said Kuroda, who has quality starts in only two of his 10 outings. "I wasn't really able to locate my breaking balls, but my fastballs, most of them were there."

Kuroda, however, continues to search for the elusive feel and confidence he seemed to lose after missing 50 games because of a strained oblique following his Opening Day win. Manager Joe Torre suspects Kuroda tries to throw too hard, the added effort messing up his mechanics so he yanks pitches and misses location, as he did on the home run by Blum.

So it was fitting that in Game 92, Kemp pretty much put the team on his back and allowed the Dodgers to salvage a split in a series after losing their first two games out of the All-Star break.

"It was just one of those days," said Kemp. "It was a team effort. I was just getting on base and Brad Ausmus kept driving me in. ... The second time I was like, 'We're a dynamic duo today.'"

Kemp is batting a team-high .321, is tied for second on the club with 12 homers, trails team leader Andre Ethier by three RBIs with 53 and with 53 runs is three shy of the club lead.

His homer came on a 3-2 pitch from LaTroy Hawkins. An inning earlier, the Dodgers got a gift run when Houston reliever Alberto Arias committed a pair of errors on back-to-back bouncers.

"Everybody in here knows we should have won this game," Astros starter Russ Ortiz said. "I think we're a mature enough clubhouse to know we should have won this game and to not let it affect us in any way."

Hudson was injured when he grounded out to end the fifth inning. With Ortiz covering first, Hudson extended his left hand in an apparent attempt to keep Ortiz from backing into him as he went by but acted as if he hyperextended the left wrist, which no longer bends backward after surgery to repair a serious dislocation suffered last year.

Hudson suffered a similar twinge during Spring Training and missed one game, which is what the club is expecting this time, although he is scheduled to undergo X-rays. He left the game after the injury and did not speak to reporters after the game.

Torre was quick to credit his bullpen, which shut down the Astros over the final four innings. Guillermo Mota took over for Kuroda with two more scoreless innings for a streak of 15, his ERA since May 22 only 0.31, dropping his overall ERA from 9.00 to 3.27.

Ramon Troncoso (4-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth for the win (16 consecutive scoreless innings) and Jonathan Broxton struck out two in a perfect ninth, notching saves on back-to-back days for the first time since June 13-14.

The Dodgers also got three hits -- and a scare-- from Andre Ethier, who fouled a pitch off his right leg. Ethier said his leg went numb, but he stayed in the game.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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