Another long night (AP)
It was more or less the same story for the Chicago Cubs in Game 2. The Dodgers had only one “big” inning offensively while the Cubs’ bats were silent most all night. In the end Los Angeles took another easy victory, 10-3, and a commanding 2-0 series lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
The Cubs’ problems began in the second inning with wretched defense. With Carlos Zambrano on the mound, Dodgers second baseman Blake DeWitt hit a groundball to second base that looked like a sure inning-ending double play.
But instead of turning two and ending the inning then, Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa botched the play. Everyone was safe, including Andre Ethier, who scored to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. The Cubs would not recover.
After another fielding fiasco – this one provided courtesy of Derrek Lee, which loaded the bases – and later a perfectly executed run-scoring bunt single by Dodgers leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal, it was 2-0. Russell Martin then delivered the big blow – a three-run double to the wall in left-center to put the Dodgers ahead, 5-0.
Only one run that inning off Zambrano was earned. He stuck around until the seventh, allowing three earned runs and seven hits in 6-1/3 innings. Zambrano struck out seven batters and walked two.
The loss was the Cubs’ eighth consecutive postseason defeat dating back to 2003. The team that posted the National League’s best regular season record (97-64) now finds itself on the verge of being swept in the postseason in consecutive years.
“I don’t think you can win 97 ballgames playing that way,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella understated to reporters after the game. “It wasn’t good baseball. In fact, the last two days have probably been the two worst games we’ve played all year from a walking and errors standpoint. It was not fun to watch, I can tell you that.”
The Cubs’ offense was nothing if not anemic against Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley and company. They totaled eight hits and mustered just three runs – two of which came in the ninth inning when half of the Dodgers’ clubhouse might as well have been halfway back to Los Angeles.
The Dodgers outscored the Cubs 17-5 in the series’ first two games; many of their runs coming with two outs.
“You play the way we played, it doesn’t matter who your opposition is,” Piniella said. “You’ve got to improve that effort. That second inning, Zambrano actually threw the ball well, but we talked about being a good defensive team and certainly tonight we weren’t.”
The Cubs committed four errors total in the loss.
Game 3 of the series is Saturday night in Los Angeles with a scheduled 9:07 p.m. CDT first pitch. Right-hander Rich Harden (5-1, 1.77 ERA in the regular season with Chicago) is scheduled to face Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73 in the regular season). Television coverage will be provided by TBS.
Before Thursday’s game, Piniella declined to say that Game 2 was a “do-or-die” contest for the Cubs. Amazingly, he again said afterward: “This is not do-or-die.”
“We’re actually sending a pretty good pitcher out there on the mound in Los Angeles on Saturday in Harden and we’re sending a darn good pitcher out to the mound on Sunday in (Ted) Lilly,” Piniella said.
“We’ve got a good chance to go to Los Angeles and play good baseball and win a few ballgames and bring it back here. But we’ve got to play better baseball and we’ve got to hit the ball a little better than we have. There’s no question about that.”
Piniella’s frustrations – at least with right fielder Kosuke Fukudome – began to show after the game. He cut off a reporter midway through a question about Fukudome’s continuing struggles and announced that his postseason was virtually over.
“From now on, I don’t want to hear about Fukudome anymore as far as whether he’s going to play or not,” an obviously frustrated Piniella said. “I’m going to play (Mike) Fontenot or Reed Johnson, or somebody else and that’s the end of the story. The kid is struggling and there’s no sense sending him out there anymore.”
Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez, who had another big night with a 2-for-4 showing that included a home run off Zambrano, continued to heap praise on his opponents.
Ramirez, appearing genuinely sincere, again called the Cubs the “best team in the National League” more than once and cautioned that the series was not over “until we get the 27th out.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for them,” he said. “We need one more game.”
Billingsley, albeit stating the obvious, said he thought the Cubs were pressing.
“It kind of looks like they are, but we took advantage of some of their mistakes and that was really big for us to do, even (in Game 1),” the Dodgers pitcher said. “We just came out and took advantage of everything they gave us.”