It felt like October in May.
Randy Wolf struck out seven to help the Los Angeles Dodgers post a 2-1 win Thursday night over the Cubs. This was the first matchup between the two teams since the 2008 National League Division Series, which the Dodgers swept.
"Obviously, a playoff situation is a little bit different," Chicago's Reed Johnson said. "I felt like we did OK tonight as far as putting the ball in play. [Wolf] made it real tough on us getting that first-pitch breaking ball over, and when he's throwing his offspeed stuff for strikes and then finishing you off late with fastballs in, he's going to make it tough on you any night."
Wolf (3-1) did not start in last October's three-game series -- in fact, the Dodgers didn't use a left-handed pitcher at all against the Cubs. Wolf gave up one run on six hits and one walk over seven-plus innings as the Dodgers improved to 34-15.
"They don't have the best record in baseball for nothing," said Bobby Scales, who accounted for the Cubs' only run with a pinch-hit homer leading off the eighth. "We have to go about our business. It doesn't matter that there's a lot of guys on this team who didn't start the year with the team. We're up here because the Cubs think we can help this team win, and we're going to have to do the job, whoever's out there. It doesn't matter who it is."
The loss left Cubs manager Lou Piniella speechless. He chose not to meet with the media after the game for the first time this season.
Part of the problem Thursday was the Cubs ran out of players. After Scales homered in the eighth to chase Wolf, Jake Fox was called on to pinch-hit. He singled. Koyie Hill was in the on-deck circle to pinch-hit, but Piniella changed his mind against Ramon Troncoso and wanted to use Kosuke Fukudome. That was fine, home-plate umpire Mark Wegner said, but Hill had apparently gone far enough to be considered in the game, and since Fukudome had stepped up to the plate, Hill, who could've played third, was done for the night.
With Aramis Ramirez, Aaron Miles and now Ryan Freel on the disabled list, and Mike Fontenot and Andres Blanco both lifted for pinch-hitters, Piniella didn't have any options left for third except Fox, who took over the corner in the ninth.
Fox is a hitter. But, as the baseball gods would have it, Matt Kemp hit the ball to Fox with runners at first and second. It wasn't pretty, but he caught the ball, and threw to second for the force.
"It was nice to get the first one out of the way," Fox said of the ground ball. "My heart was pounding a little bit. Once I got that one out of the way, I felt my heart rate slow down a little bit. Hopefully, they have enough confidence to put me back out there."
Scales' story keeps getting better with each at-bat. He was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday after Miles was put on the disabled list. Blanco was called up because the Cubs wanted a better option at shortstop. But Scales was back after Freel was placed on the disabled list on Thursday with a left hamstring injury.
Instead of getting on a flight to Des Moines on Thursday, Scales was back at Wrigley Field, still battling a cold that has forced him to miss practice for three days.
"If I'm involved, why would it be normal?" Scales said.
He could've been the hero in the ninth. The Cubs loaded the bases with one out, but Troncoso struck out both Scales and Fox to notch his third save.
"That's all you can ask for is to be in that situation," Fox said. "I got my pitch to hit, and I missed it."
Rookie Randy Wells (0-2), making his fourth start, took the loss. He wanted to keep Juan Pierre and Rafael Furcal off the bases, but he didn't, and they scored the Dodgers' runs. Pierre singled to lead off the game, stole second and then scored on Furcal's bunt single that skipped past Fontenot. Furcal walked to open the third, reached third on James Loney's single and scored when Casey Blake grounded out.
"I was able to limit the damage," Wells said, "but the damage was done."
The Cubs would like some revenge from last October's disappointment.
"It was a very frustrating game," Alfonso Soriano said. "We have to keep fighting. It's only one game -- there's three more. I hope we can put this game behind us."