The season flashed before the Cubs' eyes Sunday when Sammy Sosa was hit in the head during an 8-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
Pirates right-hander Salomon Torres broke Sosa's batting helmet with a wayward fastball in the fourth inning after Sosa had hit a two-run homer off Josh Fogg in the first. The sound of the ball hitting Sosa's earflap resonated throughout the mostly empty PNC Park on an otherwise gorgeous Easter.
Sosa briefly stared at Torres from the batter's box before Cubs trainers could examine him. He was removed from the game and taken to Allegheny General Hospital, where a CAT scan revealed no damage.
Sosa had three small cuts from the helmet smashing into the side of his face. He said he would relax at home Sunday night and that he expected to return to the lineup Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.
"I feel great," Sosa said. "I feel much better. I didn't have a chance to get out of the way. At the beginning I felt a little pain, but I went to the doctor and everything's cool."
Sosa said he didn't believe Torres was throwing at him, in spite of his initial reaction.
"He was really upset," Cubs trainer Dave Tumbas said. "He was a little scared, probably shocked."
All in all, Sosa escaped the incident with as little damage as could be expected.
"The helmet saved me right there," Sosa said.
"He's really pretty lucky he wasn't hurt more seriously," manager Dusty Baker said.
Sosa managed to maintain his sense of humor. Asked if the broken helmet would soon be available on the Internet, Sosa laughed and replied, "Believe it."
In a retaliatory move, Cubs reliever Juan Cruz hit Torres in the leg in the sixth inning, resulting in a warning for both teams from plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. No further incidents took place, however.
The beaning overshadowed a game the Cubs would just as soon forget. Left-hander Shawn Estes failed to follow up on his impressive outing Tuesday against the Reds, getting bounced around early as the Pirates snapped the Cubs' five-game winning streak.
Estes (1-2) lasted only three innings, serving up seven runs on seven hits and three walks. Though the Cubs' defense abandoned Estes once again, he remained the only inconsistent starter in the league's most dominant rotation.
"It's unfortunate," Baker said. "There's always a guy it seems you don't play that well behind. We just have to make a more conscious effort when he's out there. And him too. He didn't help himself walking people."
The Cubs jumped to a 2-0 lead on Sosa's two-run blast in the first, his fifth homer of the season. Fogg, bothered by a strained left oblique muscle, was replaced by Torres in the second.
The Pirates answered with a five-run second, capitalizing on several misplays by Cubs fielders.
With the bases loaded and one out, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek slipped while going to his left for a Pokey Reese grounder, resulting in a two-run single.
Torres laid down a bunt in front of the plate that catcher Paul Bako pounced on, throwing to third for a force. But Mark Bellhorn let the ball glance off his glove and into left field, allowing the third run to score.
Compounding the problem, Grudzielanek couldn't handle a routine grounder off Kenny Lofton's bat, bringing in two more runs to make it 5-2. Estes was cooked by the third, after a bases-loaded walk forced in another run.
Estes said he was "very displeased" with himself. He has a 5.14 earned-run average after four starts and has given up 28 hits and eight walks in 21 innings. The Cubs maintained they're not worried.
"I'm not looking at it like it's going to be a major project because there are a lot of things wrong," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "Because I don't think there are."