Walk-off plunking changes (and ends) the game for Pirates, Cubs

Ian Denomme

A game-changing moment like the one on Saturday evening could only happen to a team like the Chicago Cubs. The bizarre ending to their game against the Pittsburgh Pirates is something Cubs fans have come to accept during their 100 years of futility.

The Cubs, already in the National League Central basement with the majors' worst record, were tied 2-2 with the Pirates heading into the bottom of the ninth. To make matters worse, the Cubs were stuck in a 10-game losing skid.

Chicago reliever Rafael Dolis came on to start the ninth inning. He quickly gave up a single to center and a walk. He rebounded with two quick outs before walking Neil Walker to load the bases.

That brought Pirates rookie Matt Hague to the plate. Having just been recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday, he was thrust into a pressure-packed situation.

As it turns out, his first game-winning RBI came rather easily. Thanks to Dolis, Hague drove in the winning run without having to take the bat off his shoulder.

The reaction from Dolis says it all.

The 2-2 pitch, a 96 mph fastball, ran inside and hit Hague in the left side – the rare walk-off hit by pitch.

That scored Jose Tabata from third, giving the Pirates a 3-2 victory.

"It hurt," the first baseman said. "Once I hit first base and then when people kept punching me [in celebration] right where I got hit, it didn't feel good, either."

The late May loss may not resonate in the all-time lore of bad Cubs' losses, but this one hurt nonetheless.

Dolis, a 24-year-old rookie himself, had been the Cubs' acting closer. But after being scored on in five consecutive outings, manager Dave Sveum said either Shawn Camp or Jeff Russell would work in closing situations – if they ever have a save situation, of course.

The Cubs were stuck in their worst losing skid in 15 years – their worst slide since they started the 1997 season 0-14. But relief finally came Monday in the form of the San Diego Padres, who own the NL's second-worst record. The Cubs downed the Padres 11-7 on Monday night to end the losing streak.

The Pirates are no strangers to losing skids either, but Saturday's walk-off win -- combined with Sunday's 10-4 victory (which completed a three-game sweep of the Cubs) and Monday's win over NL Central-leading Cincinnati -- leaves the Pirates at .500.

One of baseball's last knuckleballers certainly used the confusing pitch to his advantage last week.

Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey had two wins in a seven-day span, striking out 21 batters with an ERA of .063 for the week.

Dickey's impressive week started with a 3-2 win over the Pirates on Tuesday when he struck out 11 over seven innings. He followed that up with a shutout of the Padres on Sunday, going 7.1 innings while striking out 10. He is tied for the major-league lead with seven wins.

Dickey also became the first Mets pitcher to have back-to-back games with at least 10 strikeouts since Pedro Martinez did it in May 2006.

The surprising Mets are 27-22, tied for second place in the NL East. With Dickey leading the way with All-Star caliber numbers, the Mets may just be able to hang around in one of baseball's toughest divisions.