Reporting from Chicago
A potential obstacle awaited the Dodgers as they departed Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon, and this one had nothing to do with the commissioner's office.
The Dodgers are only a game over .500, but with their 7-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs counting as their sixth win in their last eight games, they felt they were on to something.
They have started to score runs. Andre Ethier's hitting streak has reached 21 games. The starting pitchers are performing the way they were expected to perform.
Here's the problem: The recent run has coincided with the appearance of a goatee on the face of Manager Don Mattingly, and Mrs. Mattingly wants him to shave.
"It stays for a couple more days," Mattingly said. "I have at least 10 more days until I see Lori again."
Mattingly's wife lives primarily at the couple's Indiana residence.
While conceding that Mattingly looks better cleanshaven, catcher Rod Barajas pleaded with his manager's new wife to withstand the unsightliness.
"He has some white in there," Barajas said. "He might want to try Just For Men. I feel bad for his wife, but that's the game. The hair's staying. This game is all about superstition."
In their first 18 games, the Dodgers averaged 3.2 runs and scored two or fewer runs eight times. In their last five games, they have scored 38 runs.
Five of those runs were scored in the first inning Sunday, as Carlos Zambrano looked as if he were throwing batting practice.
"We haven't gone anywhere," said Matt Kemp, who was two for five, maintaining his .402 average.
Aaron Miles scored on an infield single by Ethier, Casey Blake on a single by Kemp, Ethier on a double by Jerry Sands, Kemp on a groundout by James Loney and Sands on a sacrifice fly by Barajas. (Sands appeared to leave third base before left fielder Alfonso Soriano caught Barajas' fly ball, leading to a spirited protest by Cubs Manager Mike Quade.)
"When you hit and drive in runs, it becomes contagious," Barajas said. "I think confidence is up."
As is the sense of obligation among the pitchers.
"When they scored five runs for me, I felt I had to win the game for them," starter Hiroki Kuroda said.
Kuroda gave up two runs in the first inning that reduced the Dodgers' lead to 5-2, but he settled down soon after.
Over a stretch that started in the first inning and extended into the sixth, Kuroda retired 15 of 16 batters and struck out six.
Among his strikeout victims was Soriano, his former teammate with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan. When they saw each other the previous day in batting practice, Soriano jokingly asked him to throw him something down the middle. Kuroda got him to swing and miss for strike three in the first inning on a split-finger fastball.
The pitch was a major weapon for Kuroda.
"Barajas called it in the right situations," he said.
The way Barajas told it, there wasn't a wrong time to throw it.
"Early in the count, middle of the count, late in the count, behind in the count, we were going to use it," Barajas said.
Kuroda was charged with three runs (two earned) and nine hits over 62/3 innings.