LOS ANGELES — Charlie Haeger baffled the Cubs with his knuckleball, helped by rare Los Angeles humidity that made the pitch even more unpredictable than usual.
Haeger's ability to mix his knuckler with other pitches, along with homers by Matt Kemp and Casey Blake, helped the Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Chicago 2-0 Saturday to win their third in a row.
"Any time it's humid out there, I think it's going to help. It's definitely easier to grip the ball," said Haeger, who won for the first time since Sept. 23, 2006, with the Chicago White Sox. "I like pitching day games because it's warm out, and I got a good sweat going. I feel like I'm out there working."
The NL West-leading Dodgers haven't been on this kind of roll since taking five straight from July 18-22. All three wins have come against the struggling Cubs, who lost for the 10th time in 13 games.
"Everybody that's come out of that bullpen or has started has had to be pretty much bulletproof because we've been struggling scoring runs. But what we've scored has been holding up," Los Angeles manager Joe Torre said.
Chicago managed four hits a day after getting one-hit on the road for the first time in more than 23 years.
"It's not looking good, but we're not out of it," losing pitcher Ted Lilly said. "I imagine that we're going to continue to fight and try to find a way to sneak in."
The Cubs had their chances late in the game.
Jonathan Broxton struck out Kosuke Fukudome with the potential tying runs in scoring position in the eighth. George Sherrill pitched the ninth and put two on before pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot grounded out to end it.
"That rather elusive hit with men in scoring position didn't materialize," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "What can I do? I wish I had a magic formula or magic dust. I really do. But I don't. We've struggled on the road offensively for a long time. We're in a rut right now and we've just got to work our way out of it."
It was Sherrill's first save with the Dodgers, who shut out an opponent for the first time since July 31 in a 5-0 win at Atlanta.
The Dodgers' staff has allowed three runs or fewer in seven consecutive games for the first time since Sept. 9-16.
Haeger (1-1) allowed three hits in seven-plus innings, struck out a career-high seven and walked four in his third major league start and second this season with Los Angeles. He lost 3-2 to St. Louis on Tuesday.
"I didn't really have a great feel of it early," Haeger said about his trademark pitch. "Probably about the third or fourth inning was when it started to feel a little bit better. It's an inning-to-inning kind of pitch."
Haeger worked with retired All-Star Charlie Hough on his knuckleball during spring training. Clearly he learned a few things from the master, getting the Cubs to consistently overswing on pitches that clocked in the low 70s (mph).
Haeger received a standing ovation when Torre took him out after walking Sam Fuld to open the eighth.
"He's been great," Torre said. "Today his knuckleball was better than it was the other day and that's why I think he was a little wilder. They really didn't have any good swings."
Torre brought in Broxton one inning early, flip-flopping him with Sherrill to face the heart of the Cubs' lineup.
"I couldn't resist it really," Torre said.
The manager said he didn't think Broxton had a problem with his decision, but the closer's body language indicated he wasn't thrilled.
"You still got three outs," Broxton said curtly.
He came on and struck out former Dodger Milton Bradley. Kemp lost Derrek Lee's drive to right in the sun, letting it drop for a double. But Broxton got out of the jam by striking out Aramis Ramirez and Fukudome to end the inning.
Kemp's solo homer on a 3-2 pitch from Lilly (9-8) with one out in the second gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. The ball traveled an estimated 449 feet, landing on the sidewalk behind the Dodgers' bullpen in left field. It was Kemp's 18th homer, tying his career high, and his 77th RBI, also a personal best.
"That's pretty far," he said, grinning.
Blake hit his 15th homer in the fourth.
Lilly gave up two runs and three hits in six innings.
NOTES: Theriot wasn't in the starting lineup because of a bruised knee that he hurt Friday. ... Cubs OF Alfonso Soriano, who was 0 for 6 in the first two games of the series and is hitting .143 on the seven-game West Coast trip, didn't start. He drew a walk as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. ... The Dodgers rested starters Andre Ethier, James Loney and Russell Martin. Ethier entered in the ninth. ... Ausmus caught Haeger because of his experience handling knuckleballs.