Part-timer Don Mattingly joined up again with full-timer Mike Easler on Monday, but all they saw was the most wasteful effort of the season, as the Dodgers lost to the Cubs, 3-1.
The Dodgers went 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position, and neither of those hits left the infield. They stranded 12. They loaded the bases with one out in the sixth and eighth innings, without scoring.
"We are basically a young ballclub, and they're still learning the game," said Easler. "We can't get negative on them. We have to stay positive. It's constant teaching, not finger-pointing."
Their only run came via an infield single that could have been ruled an error. The other infield single ended not with a run, but with Juan Pierre tagged in an inning-ending rundown between third and home.
"It was frustrating to be in position to tie a number of times and in position to win in the eighth," said manager Joe Torre. "We have nobody to blame but ourselves."
Wasted along with all the scoring chances was another solid start from Chad Billingsley (4-6). Dodgers hitters couldn't lift a ball into the air, even though Derrek Lee demonstrated in the first inning the proper Wrigley Field approach when the wind is blowing out.
He followed a one-out Ryan Theriot walk with his 12th home run, the first Billingsley had allowed in a month, on a mislocated fastball. Billingsley retired the next 13 batters.
"That pitch wasn't where I wanted it, but I didn't think it was bad location," said Billingsley. "He got good wood on it and got it up in the air and got it out. The ball was carrying."
Not for the Dodgers, who couldn't do anything right. For example, Pierre was erased on the first of Jeff Kent's three hits, this one a bouncer that was slowed by Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. Second baseman Mark DeRosa made one heads-up play to get the ball, then made another. With the slow Kent running, Pierre guessed that DeRosa would throw to first and decided to score from second. But DeRosa ignored Kent and threw behind Pierre, who eventually was tagged in a rundown.
"I thought too much, just tried to be aggressive but DeRosa made a smart play," said Pierre.
The first of two Matt Kemp doubles, this one leading off the fifth, was cashed in when DeRosa couldn't get the ball out of his glove on Pierre's softly hit infield single. But the Dodgers' offense was particularly futile from the fifth through eighth innings, stranding nine.
The crusher was the eighth inning, when Kent led off with a single against Bob Howry. Chin-lung Hu, benched with hitting woes after taking over for the injured Rafael Furcal, pinch-ran for Kent. But with one out, he held up rounding second base to be sure that Kemp's second double wasn't caught by right fielder Kosuke Fukudome.
"If he doesn't do that," said Torre, "he probably scores."
Hu's hesitation forced third-base coach Larry Bowa to hold Hu at third when Fukudome deftly returned the carom.
"In that situation, if he makes a catch and I get [doubled off] at first base, that's not good, too," said Hu. "Maybe I get a better read on the ball next time."
Blake DeWitt was walked intentionally to load the bases. Pinch-hitter James Loney, also benched in a slump, just missed a grand slam with a long foul, only to strike out. Pinch-hitter Delwyn Young flied out to end the inning.
Doubling the Dodgers' task, Aramis Ramirez added an insurance run with a homer off Scott Proctor in the eighth. Proctor was pitching that inning because eighth-inning specialist Jonathan Broxton was held back to close, Takashi Saito was unavailable after throwing 36 pitches on Sunday.
Then for the second time in two innings, the game found Hu. Naturally, it was the Dodgers clean-up spot at the plate with a runner in scoring position when the game ended. With Furcal and Andruw Jones disabled, Kent is the only proven run producer on the roster, which is why Torre has kept him in the four-hole even through a dreadful slump that might have ended Monday.
But when the four-hole came up this time, Kent was on the bench, as Hu had taken over an inning earlier.
"You make the decision that this is the inning you have to do it," Torre said of the obvious move to run for the 40-year-old Kent. "You put all your eggs in one basket. It didn't work out. Looking down the road, sure you wish you had [Kent]. It's a move that's hard to make."
Looking fastball on a 1-2 pitch, Hu waved at a Kerry Wood slider and the game was over.
"He throws pretty hard," said Hu.
But Hu was unaware that the Cubs' closer once was the Clayton Kershaw of his day, a Texas high school star who reached the Major Leagues at age 20. Hu, the rookie from Taiwan, was puzzled when told that Wood once struck out 20 batters in a Wrigley Field game.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.