"You've got bases loaded, nobody out and don't get anybody home, and you've got first and third earlier [in the fifth] and a double play erased that," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "It was very symbolic of our season. It seems like we get in that situation and we don't get anything out of it. It's very frustrating. I thought we had a great chance to win that ballgame right there."
But they fell short, and ended the home portion of the schedule at 38-43. The Cubs will close the year with a four-game series at National League Wild Card leader Houston.
"I don't know -- it's odd to me," Derrek Lee said about the Cubs' struggles at home. "With so much fan support and excitement here, it seems like you'd play well. It's something we need to get better at."
Mark Prior has some things to deal with as well. He served up three runs -- one earned -- over five innings to take the loss. Prior (11-7) gave up six hits and four walks while striking out seven, and suffered his first career loss to the Pirates. The right-hander was 6-0 in 10 starts entering the game.
"I was out of sync," Prior said. "I felt out of sync all day. I never was able to get into a groove, for whatever reason -- I don't know. The ball never felt comfortable coming out of my hand today. My breaking ball was awful. Some days you show up and for whatever reason it doesn't line up."
This was Prior's last start in what has been an injury-interrupted season. He was slowed this spring by elbow problems, and missed one month after being hit by a line drive on his right elbow May 27. In his last few starts, he's run up a high pitch count and has been unable to go deep in games. On Wednesday, he threw 97 pitches over five innings.
"Deep counts and again it's the same thing -- in [the second] inning, he could've gotten out of that one inning with a double play," Baker said.
But he didn't. Prior escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning but got into trouble again in the second. Humberto Cota and J.J. Furmaniak each singled. One out later, Freddy Sanchez hit a potential double-play ball to Nomar Garciaparra at third. But his throw to second hit Cota in the helmet and deflected into the outfield. Cota scored on the error, and Jason Bay then hit an RBI single to notch his 100th RBI of the season.
"They say you come to the ballpark and you'll see something you haven't seen, and I haven't seen that before when you hit the guy on the helmet with a double-play ball," Baker said. "They get a run out of that and another run on the two-out base hit."
Nate McLouth hit his second home run of the series with one out in the Pirates' fifth to make it 3-0.
Macias led off the Chicago sixth with his first home run of the year against starter Paul Maholm (3-1). One out later, Lee singled and reached third on Garciaparra's double. Lee, who now leads the National League with a .339 average, scored on Matt Murton's groundout to close to 3-2.
Lee has no intentions of sitting out the last day to preserve his high average.
"If [Baker] puts me in the lineup, I'll play," Lee said. "I would want to play. Unless he doesn't write me in the lineup, that's the only way I won't play."
The Cubs drew 37,491 on Wednesday to finish the season with a total home attendance of 3,099,992 in 80 home dates, second-highest in club history. The team averaged 38,750 fans per home game this year.
"We appreciate [the fans], big time," Baker said. "We're just saddened that we didn't come through for them. They've been supporting us. We had a hard time holding up our end of the bargain."
The players were able to forget about the loss quickly. It was rookie hazing time, and the young Cubs' dress clothes were gone in exchange for costumes ranging from Captain America (Michael Wuertz) to a baby outfit complete with diaper (Jermaine Van Buren) to a cowgirl (Will Ohman) to the pope (Roberto Novoa). Even assistant trainer Ed Halbur was given a caveman outfit.
It was a little comic relief in what has been a frustrating season.
"Obviously, we didn't play well at times," Prior said. "We had a lot of breaks go against us, but the bottom line is we didn't get it done. That's probably the simplest way to put it."