Dodgers falter late in loss to Cubs

Dodgers falter late in loss to Cubs

CHICAGO -- It's understandable why Rafael Furcal would blow out his back. He was carrying the team.

The Dodgers are five games above .500 with Furcal starting this year and are four games below .500 without him, after falling to the Cubs on Tuesday night, 3-1, on a pair of unearned runs.

It was the ninth time in the 19 games without Furcal atop the lineup that the offense scored two runs or fewer. The Dodgers have lost four of their last five and scored a total of three runs in those four losses.

"I was telling you guys that once we start pitching on a regular basis we'd win more often, but it hasn't happened. That shows how much I know," manager Joe Torre said, and that was before Hiroki Kuroda overcame wind-chill conditions in the mid-30s to put his team in position to win.

Kuroda held the Cubs scoreless through six innings, but no sooner had Dodgers executive Tom Lasorda led the Wrigley Field crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," then Kuroda walked No. 8 hitter Ronny Cedeno leading off the bottom of the seventh inning. Walks have accounted for seven of the last 15 runs scored by Dodgers opponents.

Two batters later, the Cubs had runners on the corners and Kuroda handed a precarious 1-0 lead to Jonathan Broxton. What followed is the kind of thing that happens to teams that, as Torre said, "leave themselves very little room for error."

Broxton fastballs overmatched Mike Fontenot, who sent a slow roller midway between third base and the mound. Third baseman Blake DeWitt, who singled home the only Dodgers run in the fourth inning, cut in front of shortstop Chin-lung Hu, but couldn't glove the ball as he reached for it.

"I just didn't make the play," said DeWitt, who's had back stiffness this year and didn't look limber bending for the ball. "I had no chance at home, but I've got to get the out at first base right there."

DeWitt said he would have attempted the same play, even if Furcal and his rifle arm had been playing shortstop.

"He may have peeked at the plate," Torre suggested.

One out later, Aramis Ramirez battled back from an 0-2 count to line a 3-2 slider to center for an RBI single. Kosuke Fukudome followed by spraying a fastball for an RBI double inside third. Those two runs were unearned.

Similar to Monday's 3-1 loss, the Dodgers had a chance to rally in the eighth, again loading the bases, again with James Loney launching a bid for a grand slam that hooked foul, again with Loney striking out for the second out. The inning ended on Matt Kemp's fielder's choice force out.

The ninth inning also looked pretty much the same as the day before. Kerry Wood on the mound for the Cubs, the Dodgers getting a one-out single (this one by pinch-hitter Delwyn Young) to bring the tying run to the plate before Wood closed it out.

"We're fighting it now," said Torre. "We give ourselves very little room for error. When it's a close margin, everybody feels the pinch right now."

The impact of the loss of Furcal, who was hitting .366 and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, is obvious. Andruw Jones underwent knee surgery on Tuesday, and even though he has been a bust offensively, the club is six games above .500 when he starts.

Compounding the injury problems Tuesday was the late scratch of second baseman Jeff Kent with lower back stiffness. Although Kent has slumped horribly throughout May, his three hits Monday left Torre hopeful his cleanup hitter was about to launch a revival.

And before Kent's scratch, it was already decided by Torre to give All-Star catcher Russell Martin the start off. So, the lineup had four rookies and nobody in it who has hit more than 15 home runs (Loney) in a Major League season.

After wasting Chad Billingsley's solid start Monday, it was more of the same for Kuroda, who left a game with a lead for the fourth time without getting a victory. This time, in fact, he took the loss, even though he's now allowed more than three earned runs in only one of 11 starts.

Only one of the two runs charged against him were earned, his ERA down to 3.29, lowest for a Dodgers starter not named Kershaw.

"His fastball command was good," said Danny Ardoin, who caught Kuroda for the first time in a game and threw out Derrek Lee trying to steal second base in his Dodgers debut. "He attacked the hitters like I've seen him do in all his outings. He was aggressive in the zone. A couple pitches did his outing in. Lead-off walks are tough to deal with."

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