PITTSBURGH Rafael Dolis lifted his head to the sky and all his body language seemed to say: What else could go wrong?
Fireworks went off at PNC Park, lighting up the Pittsburgh skyline on Saturday night. With the bases loaded, Dolis had hit Matt Hagues left side with a pitch, forcing in the game-winning run.
A sellout crowd of 38,132 watched the Pirates hang around for a 3-2 victory. That ninth inning was another snapshot of frustration for the Cubs, whove now lost 11 games in a row.
This is the 11th losing streak of 11 or more games in franchise history, and this group is feeling that weight.
Paul Maholm who went five innings and walked five batters couldnt stop it against his old team. Giving up two runs is too much with this lineup. This probably isnt what he envisioned when he signed with the Cubs last winter.
Were going through a skid, Maholm said. Theres nobody in here pointing fingers at each other. We got to go win the game. We cant expect it to be given to us. We got to go out there and play hard like we have been and come up with hits, come up with big pitches and get it done. Thats our focus.
These are strange days for the Cubs (15-31). In the ninth, they watched Dolis walk Josh Harrison while he was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. And Dolis struck out emerging star Andrew McCutchen before it all unraveled.
The frustration level is building. You saw it when Starlin Castro screamed and threw his bat and helmet to the ground. With runners on the corners, Castro had whiffed on an 85 mph curveball to end the threat.
Moments earlier in the seventh inning, Blake Lalli had been thrown out by several steps at home plate. The night before, Castro had struck out in a similar situation against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan to end the game.
Think Castro has been pressing, trying to do too much?
You could say that about everybody right now, manager Dale Sveum said.
The Cubs hadnt scored a run in 20 innings until the fourth, when Alfonso Soriano deposited Kevin Correias 90 mph fastball into the center-field seats.
In the fifth, Castro snapped the teams 0-for-26 streak with runners in scoring position, lifting a ball into the right-field corner and racing for a game-tying, two-out triple.
Thats the problem we try too hard because we want the big hit, Soriano said. We forget that we have to be more relaxed and let it happen. This game is not too easy, but sometimes we make it harder.
Sometimes, you have to let it go and play one at-bat, every pitch, not try to do too much. And I think now everybodys trying to do too much because were struggling offensively.
Even if Theo Epstein is essentially writing this off as a year for trial and error, and the manager and his coaching staff were hired to rebuild everything, this is still a results-oriented business.
Its only Memorial Day weekend, not the heat of September, and this is a last-place team, not a playoff contender. But the clubhouse knows that everyone is watching. There are veterans who could be moved by the trade deadline, and younger players who may never get a better opportunity to show they belong in the big leagues.
The Cubs havent experienced a losing streak like this since 1997, when they lost their first 14 games of the season. Theyll have to somehow keep it together.
The atmosphere in the clubhouse is great, Sveum said. Nobodys really hanging their head or pouting or anything like that. I think theyre doing a great job of keeping their head up and going about their business.
The preparation and the work ethic are outstanding. Theres nothing you can gripe about there. Were just not getting it done in the nine innings. We have to go out there and perform.