Dodgers drop 9 under .500 with loss to Astros

One after another, Brett Myers set down the Los Angeles Dodgers' hitters until his string of 17 in a row was stopped by James Loney's second single of the game.

By the time Andre Ethier ended his 18-game home run drought with a two-run shot in the ninth inning, the Houston Astros had built a big enough lead to allow their right-hander to finish what he started. Myers pitched a four-hitter for the first complete game by Houston's staff this season, leading the Astros to a 7-3 victory on Friday night.

The Dodgers lost their fourth straight and are nine games under .500 for the first time since 2005, when the team finished with a 71-91 record.

"We need to turn it around, that's for sure," manager Don Mattingly said. "We are definitely not going to concede anything. These things can snowball. I've been on a couple of clubs where we just didn't seem to put anything together. But it's going to be up to us not allow that to happen."

Ted Lilly (5-6) was charged with six runs — five earned — and eight hits over 5 1-3 innings in his 300th major league start. The 35-year-old left-hander, pitching on five days rest after an 11-7 victory at Colorado last Saturday, has yet to win consecutive starts this season.

"I was throwing the ball as well as I have all year, I thought," Lilly said. "But I made a couple of mistakes with some fastballs, especially to (Keppinger) to lead off the inning, and it kind of snowballed from there."

Myers (3-6) struck out six and walked one. One of the runs against him was unearned, the result of an error by first baseman Brett Wallace that preceded Ethier's sixth homer of the season.

It was the first complete game victory by an Astros pitcher since Aug. 30, 2010, when J.A. Happ beat St. Louis 3-0 with a two-hitter at Houston. And it came in just their fourth game since pitching coach Brad Arnsberg was fired and replaced with Doug Brocail, who began the season as a special assistant to general manager Ed Wade.

"I think he was a man on a mission today," Brocail said. "It had nothing to do with Doug Brocail. When he left the bullpen, I was like, 'Man, our bullpen might not have to get up tonight.' And he proved it. He got a lot of first-pitch swings. It was awesome to see him work as fast as he did and as confident as he was.

"I saw a lot of the Brett Myers we saw last year — working down in the zone, throwing his sinker, pitching off of his fastball, going right at guys and making the hitter aggressive. That can only lead to success."

Facing the Dodgers for the first time since the 2008 NL championship series with Philadelphia, Myers threw 98 pitches and went the distance for the 11th time in 231 career starts — after going 1-6 with a 6.16 ERA in his previous 10 outings.

"They were really aggressive tonight, and I was able to hit my spots and not make too many mistakes," Myers said. "I made good pitchers in hitters' counts and they made quick outs. That's the key to pitching. I went right after those guys and didn't worry about giving up hits. I just let them swing. It's a lot better to pitch ahead in the count than behind."

The Astros snapped a 1-1 tie with five runs in the sixth. Carlos Lee had a go-ahead RBI single and Clint Barmes drove in two more with an opposite-field double that landed just inside the right field line with the bases loaded.

Rookie John Lindblom relieved Lilly with the bases full after an intentional walk to Carlos Corporan, and two more runs scored when second baseman Aaron Miles smothered Jason Bourgeois' single toward the middle and tried for the force at second, but threw wildly past shortstop Dee Gordon as Barmes scored behind Wallace.

Myers walked his first batter on four pitches, and Gordon scored on Kemp's sacrifice fly. The Astros tied it in the fourth on Chris Johnson's RBI double. Johnson also singled during Houston's big sixth inning. Johnson came in with only one hit in 18 at-bats against Dodgers pitching — a go-ahead, three-run homer against Lilly in a 3-2 Astros win over Los Angeles on Sept. 9, 2010 at Houston.

Notes: Both teams were swept in their previous series, the Dodgers by Cincinnati and the Astros by Pittsburgh. ... Mattingly planned to huddle with struggling RHP Chad Billingsley and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to discuss the reasons for Billingsley's 11.19 ERA over his previous three starts. "There's too many balls in the middle of the plate," Mattingly said. "The other day, he was just firing — and that's what I was upset about. Bills is one of those guys who throws harder and harder when he's struggling instead of throwing quality pitches. But there's days when you don't have that good stuff, so you've got to make an adjustment and pitch a little differently. I mean, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." ... Lee and Bourgeois both stole second against Dodgers backup C Dioner Navarro, improving the Astros' major league-best stolen base percentage to 85.9 (61 for 71). Opponents are 5 for 16 against Navarro, who threw out Lee in the seventh.