Randy Wolf masterpieces have become routine lately, but just don't go dropping the ace label on him.
"I'm not an ace," Wolf said after limiting the Cubs to one hit over seven innings and doubling in both runs in a 2-1 win that allowed the Dodgers to add a game to their National League West lead (4 1/2) for the first time in 11 days, while the Giants were beating the second-place Rockies.
"To me, an ace is not something that floats," Wolf said. "It's career numbers stuff, to have that dominating pitcher year in and year out. It's an overused term."
Wolf argues that if the Dodgers' ace is Hiroki Kuroda on Opening Day, and then Chad Billingsley for a while until Clayton Kershaw goes on a roll and Wolf follows him with one of his own, then they don't have one. When he thinks ace, Wolf thinks perennial Cy Young Award winners. Roy Halladay comes to mind.
"There's maybe four guys in that category, guys with 20 wins almost every year with ERAs ridiculously low, guys who just dominate," Wolf said. "Ace, to me, is a label they try to put on guys and sometimes it's not necessary."
So, if Wolf (8-6) isn't an ace, what is he after going 3-0 with a 1.99 ERA in his past three starts, with 10 quality starts in his past 11 outings, not to mention the MLB-high seven wins his bullpen let get away?
"I'm just one of the guys pitching well," Wolf said. "If Russell Martin catches fire and for five games he's crushing the ball, is he our biggest hitter? Probably not, but he is at that time. This is what teams do. You hope if a guy's not going good, he gets picked up by somebody who is. That's part of the whole good-team concept collectively over a whole season."
The bullpen that let Wolf down earlier in the season protected his win Friday night, when manager Joe Torre lifted Wolf for a pinch-hitter even though he had a one-hitter through seven innings, only 88 pitches total and five 1-2-3 innings.
"In a close game like that, with 90 to 100 pitches and we have two guys in the bullpen, now we have an eighth-inning guy, and it's easier to make that decision," said Torre, who brought on George Sherrill for a hitless eighth inning and Jonathan Broxton for a perfect ninth to finish off the combined one-hitter. "A month ago, that wasn't so easy. I knew if they had one man on base, I was going to take him out anyway."
Wolf wouldn't bite when asked his opinion of coming out of a one-hitter. Torre let Wolf take a one-hitter into the eighth inning Sunday and he allowed three of the next four batters to score.
"They pay me to pitch and don't pay me to manage," said Wolf, who turns 33 Saturday. "They asked how I was doing and said we got two guys in the back of the bullpen to finish it out. I said, 'Joe, you're the manager.' Those are tough decisions he has to make."
But Sherrill, the Baltimore closer acquired July 30, overcame a leadoff walk to Alfonso Soriano for a scoreless eighth. And Broxton, who had allowed six runs in his previous 10 1/3 innings, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning, throwing all fastballs until he got Derrek Lee to chase a slider in the dirt for the final out and his 27th save.
Broxton was throwing harder than he has since his toe nerve flared up at the All-Star break, hitting 100 mph.
Wolf drove in both Dodgers runs with a second-inning double with two outs, the inning extended when Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez booted Orlando Hudson's bouncer. It was the second consecutive productive game for Wolf's bat, which drove in three runs with a homer, double and single in Arizona on Sunday.
"Luck's an amazing thing," Wolf said when asked where the offense is coming from. "It's for bragging rights. Billingsley has talked a lot. It's good to humble him a little bit."
Wolf's 11 RBIs are the most for a Dodgers pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela in 1990. But Wolf was a little humbled when, after walking with one out and Martin on first in the fourth inning, he forgot how many outs there were and ran the Dodgers out of the inning by turning Rafael Furcal's flyout into a double play.
The next closest the Dodgers came to scoring was when Manny Ramirez had a home run taken away leading off the eighth inning when center fielder Sam Fuld pulled it back at the fence.
"I read it off the bat and knew it was going to be a close one," said Fuld. "I didn't know exactly where it was going to land, but I felt I didn't need to try to climb. I felt like if I could time it perfectly, that would be enough, and it was, just barely."