PITTSBURGH Matt Garza prides himself on being a big-game pitcher, someone with enough guts to want the ball in October.
Garzas supposed to be the guy the Cubs count on to shut it down. But he wilted in the 88-degree heat on Sunday at PNC Park, serving up three homers in a 10-4 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cubs have now lost 12 straight games. They return home on Memorial Day, a traditional mile marker for a six-month season, buried in last place with the worst record (15-32) in the National League.
Even if Cubs fans didnt expect to see team president Theo Epstein riding on a float down Michigan Avenue this October, they also probably didnt expect it to bottom out this quickly.
We just got to play, Garza said afterward. Yeah, we have great fans. They know the game, but we cant play for the fans right now. We have to play for every guy in here. Every guy has to pull on the same side of the rope.
Its going to kind of test our character as a club right now. Were just going to keep grinding it out. No matter what anybody says, we got to keep whats in here tight, not let it break (us) up.
The last time the Cubs lost this many games in a row a franchise-record 14 to start the 1997 season manager Dale Sveum was playing for the Pirates, Alfonso Soriano was playing in Japan and Starlin Castro was seven years old.
The last time the Cubs won a game, The New York Times hadnt yet brought to light Joe Ricketts political activities, which forced the Cubs board of directors into damage-control mode as they try to secure financing for the Wrigley Field renovation.
Kerry Wood hadnt yet held two retirement press conferences, or eloquently explained away Irrelevant, dude by talking about his baseball mortality, replacing the video of him throwing his hat and glove into the stands with the shot of him hugging his son.
Theres a different psychology to it now. Garza made another wild throw after fielding a sacrifice bunt in the first inning. He now has 10 errors in 40 starts for the Cubs. He had committed six errors in 121 games with the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays.
Moments later, Pedro Alvarez put one in the right-field seats, and the Pirates (23-24) got their first three-run homer this season in Game 47. That felt like game over for a Cubs team that has labored to score runs.
My first job is to keep runs off the board, Garza said. Giving up a three-spot in the first doesnt really help anybody. All it does is just build pressure and make guys have to do stuff and then we get uncomfortable.
Garza also surrendered home runs to Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, and his manager wasnt sure why he was throwing changeups.
He just got beat by pitches he shouldnt be throwing people. He got beat by his fourth-best pitch, Sveum said. Ill have to talk to him again. He had a great fastball today and got in those situations against a couple guys (where) velocity gets em. He decided to throw changeups. Its not exactly protocol, or what the game plan was.
Garza (2-3, 4.22 ERA) is looking for a big contract extension, and you thought this was a lineup he could dominate. Figuring it out will be a central theme for the 2012 Cubs, even if you cant put that on a billboard.
Patience is something that a lot of fans dont have, no matter what you go through, Sveum said. Im a huge football fan, and I dont understand the Oakland Raiders losing every game. Thats just kind of the way it is. They want to win, just like we want to win.
Thats just part of every city, especially any city thats as passionate as (Chicago).
Just win, baby is a little catchier than Progress as an organization isnt linear.
But Epstein isnt Al Davis, and this isnt the NFL. It will take years to rebuild the team at Clark and Addison, which is why the front office is so focused on the upcoming amateur draft.
Until then, there will be long, hot days in Pittsburgh, and maybe a sea of empty green seats at Wrigley Field.
Guys in here dont stop, Garza said. Were not quitters. Its gonna turn. Were gonna keep fighting and were gonna catch a little roll soon.