Cubs manager Dusty Baker immediately inserted newly acquired first baseman Randall Simon in the starting lineup Sunday against Los Angeles, citing the fact that Simon has always hit well against Dodgers starter Hideo Nomo.
"We were facing a really good team," Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa said. "We weren't playing someone from rookie ball or Triple A."
The Cubs trail Houston by a half-game with 39 remaining. After Monday's day off, the Cubs open a nine-game trip Tuesday night at Houston's Minute Maid Park, while St. Louis plays host to Pittsburgh.
Nomo yielded only four hits and allowed just one runner past second. Paul Quantrill and All-Star closer Eric Gagne completed the shutout.
Nomo almost was a member of the Cubs after he signed a free-agent deal in 1999. But after a contractually agreed upon number of starts at Triple-A Iowa, management let him get away . He's 14-9 with a 2.75 earned-run average this year and 43-25 record in his last three seasons with Boston (2001) and Los Angeles.
"People say good pitching beats good hitting, and then when you don't hit, they want to know what's wrong with your offense," Baker said. "That's contradictory for me. Nomo's ERA is [2.75], which is about as low as you can get in this league [for a starter]. Instead of chastising or criticizing our guys, sometimes that guy on the other side has a lot to do with it."
Since Aug. 1 the Cubs are hitting .228 and averaging 3.3 runs per game. But they've managed to go 10-6 during the month on the strength of their pitching, which has posted a 2.45 ERA in August.
Carlos Zambrano (11-9) was sharp again, but he got no support. Zambrano gave up RBI singles to Adrian Beltre and Jolbert Cabrera in the Dodgers' two-run fourth, as Los Angeles snapped Zambrano's five-game winning streak.
"Zambrano threw the ball well," Baker said. "He deserved better."
Lofton was then nailed at second while trying to steal, ending the threat.
Lofton claimed second-base umpire Chris Guccione missed the call, arguing that Cabrera never tagged him.
"There's nothing you can do about it," Lofton said. "The umpire is always right."
Asked if he'd tagged Lofton, Cabrera raised his eyebrows and replied: "Oh, yeah. The ball beat him. The umpire didn't see me tag him. I didn't tag himhe touched the glove. My boy at second base (Guccione) made a great call. That was probably the play of the game."
Why was Lofton running in that situation?
"Kenny is one of the best [base-stealers] around," Baker said. "Nomo is slow to the plate and [Dodgers catcher Paul] Lo Duca throws so-so. Plus you've got to tag him. That was one of those phantom tags. You understand phantom touches of second base on double plays, but on a stolen base you've got to tag the guy."
Simon's error on a pickoff attempt led to an unearned run off Mark Guthrie in the eighth, and Gagne continued his perfect season, posting his 41st save in 41 opportunities with a scoreless ninth.
Though the Cubs went 4-3 on the homestand against Houston and Los Angeles, they looked spent over the last couple of days in losses to the Dodgers.
"We'll get our second wind back," Baker said. "It's hard playing catch-up."