The hardest part for Los Angeles left-hander Wilson Alvarez on Wednesday night was waiting in the on-deck circle during the seventh inning while Alex Cora fouled off 14 straight 2-2 pitches during a rollicking, 18-pitch at-bat against Matt Clement.
Alvarez fidgeted and fussed, twisted his body in every direction to stay loose, and finally got down on one knee at the end of Cora's foul ball marathon.
With the crowd of 43,233 cheering each and every foul like a playoff home run, Cora finally ended Foul-a-Palooza with an actual two-run home run, allowing Alvarez to escape from his batting circle prison.
Alvarez wound up shutting out the Cubs into the eighth inning in a 4-0 victory at Dodger Stadium, giving Los Angeles the first two games in the series.
"It was a tough battle to lose between [Clement] and Cora," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "It's one of the best battles I've seen, but Cora came out on top."
Despite pitching well, Clement's five-game win streak was snapped thanks to another lackluster effort by the Cubs' up-and-down offense. Before the seventh, Clement gave up only two runs on six singles, four of which were infield hits during the Dodgers two-run third inning.
"There's not a whole bunch you can do about that," Baker said. "When you're going good and hot, those things go for you."
Alvarez (2-0) pitched 72/3 shutout innings, allowing five hits while striking out eight and walking one. Tuesday the Cubs also drew only one walk in a 7-3 loss to the Dodgers, who rank 10th in the National League in walks allowed.
Instead of swaggering through the early season, the Cubs are stumbling around like they're waiting for someone to carry them through this rough stretch.
So far, no takers. They're 6-9 since April 26 and have been shutout four times in that span. In 2003, they were shut out 10 times during the entire season.
Though the Cubs have obviously been hit hard by injuries, no one around the league is feeling sorry for them.
"We've been tested," Baker said. "We've got to find a way to pass the test. I told my guys in spring training, 'Hey, it could be tough, and when it's tough, you've got to find a way to win and get it done no matter who we put out there.'
"We expect them to play well and do the job. Is it tougher? Yeah. But can you do it? Yeah, you can do it. I keep looking at the New England Patriots. They supposedly led the league in injuries."
The Dodgers scored two runs in the third on four two-out hits off Clement (5-2) that never left the infield. With Alvarez on first, Paul Lo Duca hit a roller down the third base line that refused to go foul, putting runners on first and second, Milton Bradley followed with a dribbler to the mound that Clement fielded from his knees. Rather than getting up, however, Clement decided to lob a throw to first while still on his knees, loading the bases for Shawn Green.
Green's sharp grounder to third deflected off of Aramis Ramirez to shortstop Ramon Martinez, who barely missed throwing Green out at first, bringing home the first Dodger run. Clement induced Adrian Beltre to ground to third, but Ramirez couldn't get a grip on the ball, allowing Lo Duca to score from third and make it 2-0.
The Cubs entered the game with a .243 average against left-handed pitchers, including a .133 average by Sammy Sosa, who hit .333 off lefties last year. Alvarez continued that trend Wednesday night, cruising through the Cubs lineup and retiring 13 in a row from the third inning into the seventh.
Cora's two-run shot in the seventh on the 18th pitch of his at-bat made it 4-0, sending the crowd into delirium. Clement was done for the night, and soon enough, the Cubs would be goners as well.