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MIL@CHC: Wolf fans seven in seven scoreless frames

CHICAGO -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was just saying the other day that dugout decisions really figure in only a handful of games all year. It's the players, he said, and not the managers, who decide the outcome on the vast majority of nights.

Count Monday's game among the exceptions -- a pitcher's duel-turned-managerial chess match that ended as a 1-0 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. There was the potentially sniffed-out squeeze bunt in the fifth inning that cost the Brewers a run, then a second-guesser's delight of an eighth that produced the Cubs' only run and provided a thought-provoking start to a four-game series between Interstate 94 rivals.

"It's very easy to second-guess when things don't go right," Roenicke said.

Before the second-guessing, here's the big picture: Coming off a three-game sweep of the Cardinals, the Brewers enjoyed sole possession of first place in the National League Central for only one day. The loss, only the Brewers' third loss in their last 11 games, dropped the team into a tie with idle St. Louis at 38-29.

The Cubs won on Aramis Ramirez's fielder's-choice grounder up the middle in the bottom of the eighth inning. Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks fielded it and fired a throw home, but not before Darwin Barney reached with a headfirst slide.

Barney was at third after his single against Brewers reliever Kameron Loe (2-6) and Carlos Pena's pinch-hit double off the ivy-covered wall in left field. Pena's wind-affected drive just eluded Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who tried a leaping catch but missed.

"Because of the wind and the way it played, I think it pushed it over to the side more," Roenicke said. "... It was hit. The wind is the only reason it didn't go out of the ballpark."

Loe lost for the sixth time but has allowed only a run in nine of his 36 appearances. Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija (4-2) won after working a scoreless eighth inning and Carlos Marmol logged his 13th save.

The decision to use Loe for a third consecutive day will help Brewers fans fill the time before Game 2 of the four-game series on Tuesday night. So will the decision to stick with Loe when the Cubs replaced right-handed right fielder Jeff Baker with left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter Pena.

Roenicke conceded that it was a bad matchup, the sinkerballer Loe against the low-ball-hitting Pena. But the Brewers' only left-handed reliever, Zach Braddock, was not warming, and the Brewers stuck with Loe.

"He's our eighth-inning guy," Roenicke said, "and in tie ballgames, he goes the eighth and Ax [closer John Axford] will follow.

"I have other options, with [Marco] Estrada, with Hawk [LaTroy Hawkins], and probably with [Tim] Dillard now, but we felt good with Kameron."

Barney was mad at himself for not scoring on Pena's drive to left, but made up for it with a quick read of Ramirez's go-ahead grounder. He scored with a creative slide.

"I'm going hard and you've got your sights on the catcher and you're looking for a hole and there wasn't a really big hole there," Barney said. "I had to go over his leg and under his hand and try to slip your hand in there. That's all you're thinking. You're bearing down and staring at your spot and trying to find one. Luckily, I got in there."

It only took one run to decide what had been a pitchers' duel for the first seven innings.

Randy Wolf allowed six hits but did not walk a batter and struck out seven in his seven-inning gem to continue a positive trend. Milwaukee's starting pitchers are 19-5 with a 3.31 ERA in the team's last 35 games, including 24 quality starts.

Too bad he matched up against Cubs right-hander and career Brewers-killer Ryan Dempster, who entered the night with a 5.96 ERA that seemed irrelevant given his career-long success against Milwaukee. Including Monday's no-decision, he is 15-3 with a 2.50 ERA against the Brewers in 23 starts and 22 more relief appearances.

"Some guys have teams' numbers, and he always seems to put it together when he goes against us," Brewers right fielder Corey Hart said. "It's kind of rough because we threw the ball so well."

The Brewers' best chance to break through against Dempster came in the fifth inning, when Yuniesky Betancourt hit a shoulder-high pitch for a leadoff double and advanced on Wil Nieves' tapper in front of the plate.

When Dempster fell behind Wolf, 3-and-1, Roenicke ordered a suicide squeeze for the second time this season. It had worked on May 28, when Jonathan Lucroy's perfect bunt scored Braun in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Giants.

"It's a count where I know [Dempster] is going to try to throw a strike, because he doesn't want to face Rickie and then [Mark] Kotsay with a runner on third," Roenicke said. "At 3-0, he threw one right down the middle, and we figured he'd throw another one there."

Only Dempster did not. He threw a fastball off the plate instead, and Wolf waved at it. Betancourt was caught in a rundown, eventually retired 2-5-1-6-4-2 in the scorebook.

The missed opportunity stung when Wolf hit the very next pitch for a double. He was stranded when Weeks smashed an inning-ending groundout to first base.

"I think Dempster saw the squeeze and threw the ball way off the plate," Wolf said. "I tried to reach for it, but I couldn't even foul it off."

"You're taking a little bit of a chance there," Roenicke said, "but I felt good with Randy. He's a very good athlete. I felt good that he'd get a piece of the ball."

Wolf had better luck on the mound.

"He pitched great," Roenicke said. "That's definitely one of his better outings."

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