Jason Bay hit a pair of two-run homers, and the Pirates scored the tiebreaking run on a wild pitch with two outs in the ninth against Ryan Dempster as Pittsburgh beat Chicago, 6-5, in front of the smallest crowd of the year, 31,494.
"It's a tough pill to swallow," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said of having the worst record in the National League. "People are saying it's the two worst teams -- it's not fun. You try to put something like this behind you and get better from it."
Dempster could use a pick-me-up. With the game tied at 5 and two outs in the ninth, the Pirates loaded the bases on a fielder's choice and two walks. Dempster's first pitch to Xavier Nady skipped in the dirt and a run scored on the wild pitch.
"I don't have an answer," Dempster said. "It's been a tough stretch right here."
The Cubs closer has been the losing pitcher in three of his last four outings, and all three have been to the Pirates.
"I'm sure there are people who don't want to see me out there when the game's on the line," he said. "I want to see myself out there. I'm going to right this ship. I'm going to get it done. There's plenty of reasons to battle through this and play through this. It's been tough. It's been a lot of pain losing all these games, but I've got to keep fighting. I'm not going to give in, give up."
Is it mechanical? Dempster led the National League in save percentage last year. This season, he's 24-for-31 in save situations.
"I'm falling behind hitters," Dempster said. "I've got to be more aggressive and go after people. This is ridiculous. I'm a big-league pitcher. Start acting like one. Start throwing the ball over the plate. They didn't hit a ball out of the infield and they scored a run. That's pathetic.
"I'm never one to make excuses -- I'm not making any excuses," he said. "Make them hit the ball. I don't care if somebody's hitting .500; there's a chance of them making an out."
He hasn't had regular work because of the team's performance lately. That's not the reason for his struggles.
"I feel great warming up, I feel great when I'm out there," he said. "I'm not trying to walk a guy. Bay hit two home runs in the game. I've got to be careful there. I've got an open base. I pitched around him [and he walked to load the bases], and then I throw a slider that's three feet outside and I don't give my catcher a chance to block it, then I get the strikeout [of Nady].
|"I'm sure there are people who don't want to see me out there when the game's on the line. I want to see myself out there. I'm going to right this ship. I'm going to get it done. There's plenty of reasons to battle through this and play through this."|
|-- Ryan Dempster|
"It's just a matter of location as much as anything," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "You've seen relievers many times, they're either the hero when they come through, and when they don't, you get the jeers. It's a bad streak that Demp is on, especially against these guys."
Bay connected on his first homer with two outs and one on in the first off rookie Juan Mateo, and again with two outs and one on in the third. The dingers helped the Pirates open a 5-1 lead, but the Cubs rallied. Ryan Theriot tripled and scored on Aramis Ramirez's groundout in the Cubs' third. In the fourth, the Cubs loaded the bases with one out, and Juan Pierre hit a two-run single to close to 5-4 and chase starter Victor Santos.
One out later, Ramirez appeared to have beaten a throw from Bautista but was called out by first base umpire Tom Hallion. Ramirez threw his helmet in disgust, and was immediately ejected from the game.
"He wasn't throwing [the helmet] in his direction; he was just throwing it down," Baker said of Ramirez. "He was more upset at himself. I don't understand that ejection, really. The ball's not bouncing our way. That was big."
It did in the Chicago fifth when Jacque Jones singled and reached second on an error by Chris Duffy, who overran the ball. Jones advanced on Matt Murton's single before scoring on a throwing error by pitcher Marty McLeary to tie the game at 5.
Pierre tried to get something started in the eighth when he tried to steal third with one out, but he was thrown out.
"I want him running right there every time," Lee said. "I thought it was the right play. The way we're swinging the bats and struggling to score runs, he's trying to make it easier for the hitters, especially with Aramis out. I thought it was a great play. He just got thrown out."
"Juan's on his own," Baker said. "He has a pretty good idea when to run. He didn't have a good jump on that ball. It's just a tough night."
When the Cubs wake up Wednesday, they'll be at the bottom of the standings.
"It wasn't expected, that's for sure," Lee said. "We thought we had a good team going into spring. We had some different circumstances this year. We still expected to play better than this. It's one of those years when nothing seems to be going right."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.