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Ex-Sox factor haunts Cubs
Though Matt Clement has emerged as the hottest pitcher in a sizzling Cubs rotation, he fizzled out early Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
Clement surrendered four first-inning runs in the Cubs' 6-1 loss to Los Angeles, spoiling an opportunity to gain on first-place Houston.
With St. Louis winning, the Cubs slipped back into third place in the NL Central, a half-game game behind the Cardinals and 2½ behind the Astros. They're also 4½ games behind Philadelphia and Florida in the bunched-up wild-card chase.
Two former White Sox players had a big hand in helping the Dodgers win their sixth straight before 54,181. Left-hander Wilson Alvarez, making only his third start for Los Angeles, held the Cubs scoreless on four hits in a seven-inning outing, while Robin Ventura homered and drove in three runs.
The Cubs have scored three or fewer runs in six of their last seven games, and they rank 11th in the National League in runs scored. Clement entered Saturday's game having allowed only one run in his previous two starts and had taken over from Mark Prior and Kerry Wood as the most dominant Cubs starter of late. But the Dodgers managed to put a run on the board only one batter into the game, thanks to some fortunate bounces.
Dave Roberts started the Dodgers' first with a shot into the left-field corner that eluded Moises Alou as he attempted to field it as it bounced off the wall. Roberts scampered all the way around the bases with relative ease and was credited with an inside-the-park home run, the first of his career.
"That's a first for me," Clement said. "An inside-the-parker to start the game. Unfortunately I wasn't able to execute my pitches early. But you've got to tip your hat to Wilson."
Adrian Beltre's sacrifice fly later that inning made it 2-0, and Ventura followed with a two-run homer to give the Dodgers a four-run lead. They added another run in the third on an RBI groundout by Ventura, and the Cubs were history.
The 33-year-old Alvarez looked like he hadn't lost a thing, though obviously he's not the same pitcher he was with the Sox. He missed almost all of the 2000 and 2001 seasons after rotator cuff surgery and signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers in the off-season. Since being called up June 7, Alvarez has shown that he's completely recovered from the surgery, with his ERA falling to 2.90 after Saturday's game.
After Ramon Martinez's leadoff single on the fourth, Alvarez retired the next 12 hitters in order.
Alvarez struck out six and walked no one. Antonio Alfonseca replaced Clement in the sixth inning and gave up another run on an RBI single by Alex Cora, continuing his struggles.
Catcher Damian Miller snapped the shutout off reliever Paul Shuey in the eighth with a solo homer to left, but the offense was a no-show for the second straight night.
It doesn't get any easier Sunday, when the Cubs face NL ERA leader Kevin Brown in a matchup against Prior.
"Two runs in two daysit's tough to win like that," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.