CHICAGO -- The Dodgers got more wins from Eric Milton on the just-completed trip than they have from Hiroki Kuroda all season. It's unexpected contributions like that from all sectors of the roster that have made the Dodgers the best team in baseball and good enough to go 20-9 in May after an 8-2 win over the Cubs Sunday. They haven't won that many games in May since 1962. But whether they lose Manny Ramirez for 50 games or Casey Blake for a couple, the Dodgers keep finding replacement parts. Mark Loretta, filling in for Blake and his sore hamstring, had two hits Sunday, including a two-run double in a five-run first inning.
That was more runs than the Dodgers scored in the other three games of the series combined, and Milton knew what to do with the windfall. It was quite a week for Milton, the only Dodgers pitcher with two wins during the trip after going almost three years without a Major League victory. He held the Cubs scoreless for 5 1/3 innings, then allowed the next four batters to reach base and was removed after Reed Johnson's two-run double. Johnson went 8-for-12 in the series. "He kept it off the fat part of the bat," manager Joe Torre said. "Most important for us, in the first inning, after we scored five, he didn't give them anything." The Dodgers opened the game with five consecutive singles off Sean Johnson, as Orlando Hudson, James Loney and Jamie Hoffmann joined Loretta with RBIs. Matt Kemp (11-for-27 on the trip) added a solo homer with two out in the third inning. Two more runs scored in the fifth on Loney's RBI double and a throwing error by Cubs catcher Geovany Soto. The 12-hit attack followed by one game the Dodgers' first shutout loss of the season and largest margin of defeat. They finished the trip 5-2. "This game was important," said Torre. "We lost two in a row in their park. They beat us up yesterday and we came out with a split. I hope we continue to play well at home." The homestand opener will feature the comeback of Kuroda after nearly two months on the sidelines. While he was gone, Eric Stults filled in with four wins. Milton has now taken charge of the fifth-starter spot. He's made three starts, each a little better than the previous one, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "I felt good in Colorado," Milton said of his five-inning win on Tuesday night, "and even better tonight." He gave credit to the five-run head start, a leaping catch by Loretta of a Derrek Lee line drive in the first inning and a second "web gem" by rookie Hoffmann, who was giving right fielder Andre Ethier a day off. With a runner on third and one out in the bottom of the second, Bobby Scales hit a sinking liner to shallow right and Hoffmann made a diving catch. "I heard O-Dog [second baseman Orlando Hudson] yelling, 'Going four, going four' and I got up as quick as I could," Hoffman said.
He popped to his feet and unleashed a short-hop strike that catcher Russell Martin gloved to tag out Johnson.With Milton coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, the Dodgers aren't sure if his endurance will be limited or if three starts aren't enough of a sample. But each start, he's seemed to wobble around the 80-pitch mark. "We just have to be aware of the fifth inning and have somebody ready," said Torre. "That's fine with me. Five quality innings and we can take it the rest of the way." Milton expects to give his manager more than that. "I wish I could have gone deeper tonight," he said. "I guess it's something that'll come. I haven't gone seven innings all year. A situation like tonight, I couldn't have gotten over the hump. But things happened and I couldn't stop the bleeding." The bullpen did, with Ronald Belisario, Ramon Troncoso and Jonathan Broxton closing it out. Belisario had the toughest job, but stranded runners on second and third he inherited from Milton and pitched a scoreless seventh. "He was as tough as he can be," said Torre. "His sinker is really nasty." The only late excitement was a high-and-tight fastball to Ryan Theriot with two out in the seventh. The following inning, Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol hit pinch-hitter Brad Ausmus in the left elbow with a 3-0 pitch and plate umpire Rob Drake issued warnings to both teams, but there were no further incidents. Like Drake, the Dodgers were certain that Ausmus was hit in retaliation for the pitch that almost hit Theriot, but Torre said he'd "rather not comment" on whether he thought it was intentional.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.