Cubs baffled by Dodgers' knuckleballer
Haeger limits offense to three hits in seven-plus innings
LOS ANGELES -- Sam Fuld can only jump so high.
Matt Kemp and Casey Blake each hit solo home runs to back knuckleballer Charlie Haeger and lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 2-0 victory Saturday over the Cubs, who lost for the 12th time in their past 16 games.
"It's got to get better," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "I think the law of averages dictate that."
After being held to one hit Friday, the Cubs had to face Haeger under the bright sun Saturday. His dancing pitches ranged from 65-75 mph on the stadium radar gun, and that was good enough. Milton Bradley batted right-handed against the right-hander in an attempt to get something going. It didn't work.
"We're just having a hard time scoring and we're not swinging the bats," first baseman Derrek Lee said. "I really wish I did have an answer. Sometimes you just have to go up there and will yourself to find a way. You can try everything in the book mechanically and tinker with your swing, but sometimes I think it comes down to willing things to happen. We have to find a way to make something happen."
Ted Lilly (9-8), making his second start since coming off the disabled list, deserved some offensive support. He gave up three hits, including both homers, over six innings. One of those hits was Kemp's 18th homer with one out in the second off a 3-2 pitch that sailed 449 feet to left.
Fuld, starting in place of slumping Alfonso Soriano, made two highlight-reel catches. He grabbed Mark Loretta's fly ball at the wall with a leaping grab to end the second, and topped that in the third when he snared Brad Ausmus' fly ball on the run and slid face-first into the wire mesh of the door to the Dodgers' bullpen.
"That play he made on Ausmus, that's a Major League play all the way," Piniella said.
Fuld had some big league red welts on the right side of his face, courtesy of the fence.
"I think the fence is a little better than ivy but not a whole lot," Fuld said. "It still hurts a little bit."
On Friday, Fuld robbed Manny Ramirez of a home run in the eighth and he's not afraid of the ivy at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs outfielder couldn't jump high enough to catch Blake's ball with two outs in the fourth, and it landed in the left-field seats for his 15th homer and a 2-0 lead.
"[Defense] is something I take a lot of pride in," Fuld said. "I like to do the little things and defense is a big part of the game."
"It could've been worse for me if some of those plays weren't made defensively, specifically the one Sam Fuld made in left," Lilly said. "He's been playing about as good defense as I've seen. That's certainly one bright spot for us today."
There weren't many. The Cubs had a chance in the eighth. Fuld walked to lead off and chase Haeger (1-1). Jonathan Broxton, who looked as if he was throwing twice as hard as the knuckleballer, struck out Bradley, and Lee lofted the ball to right. Kemp lost it in the sun, and it dropped in for a double. The Cubs had runners at second and third. But Aramis Ramirez lined out to Loretta at first and Broxton struck out Kosuke Fukudome to end the inning.
"We had a couple chances there ... but that rather elusive hit with men in scoring position didn't materialize," Piniella said of the Cubs, who were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. "I wish I had magic formula, magic dust, but I don't."
The loss dropped the Cubs to 10-17 against National League West teams and 3-13 in road games out west.
"It's not looking good, it's not looking good at all," Lilly said. "We're not out of it. I imagine we'll continue to fight and try to find a way to sneak in and get hot here. We still have 30 games or so left."
Actually, there are 41 remaining. Only five more are in NL West parks. Asked if he had any advice, Lee said they have to keep "grinding it out" to battle out of this collective team funk.
"We're not putting big innings together, we're not stringing hits along," Lee said. "There's not much you can say. Everybody's different at the plate. It's a long season and the best approach is just to grind it out."
"We're in a rut right now," Piniella said, "and we have to work our way out of it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.