Hawkins likely blows closer job

SportsChicago CubsCrime, Law and JusticeCrimeJerry Hairston, Jr,Mike RemlingerNeifi Perez

If you think the weather was cold Saturday, you should have seen the icy treatment the Wrigley Field crowd gave LaTroy Hawkins.

He lost the save, lost the game and apparently lost his job as the Cubs' closer during a brutally cold and bitterly disappointing 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh.

About the only thing Hawkins didn't lose was his cool as he answered questions afterward.

"It's frustrating," he said. "But you have to get back out there and right the ship."

It may to be too late for him to do that because manager Dusty Baker appears to be taking applications for his role.

"We have go back to the drawing board on something else, that's what we have to do," a subdued Baker said. "It seems like he hasn't been good with one-run leads. I can't figure it out. He has the stuff. I can't figure it out right now."

In his two seasons as a Cub, Hawkins has blown 10 of 16 one-run leads, including 2 of 4 this season. Saturday's came on a home run against the wind and a walk.

Why?

"Oh, boy," Baker said, "at this point I'm lost for words."

The options?

"Oh, boy," Baker said, "I'll think about it tonight."

The logical options right now are Chad Fox, who has had the job with two other teams; Mike Remlinger, who saved 12 games for the Braves in 2000; or Michael Wuertz, who saved 19 games at Triple-A Iowa last season.

But that's the immediate future. It's the recent past that has Cubs fans giving their team the cold shoulder.

The Cubs not only blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning; Greg Maddux blew a 2-0 lead after six innings and Cubs hitters left six runners in scoring position, including one in the ninth inning.

"I've never seen nothing like this before," an exasperated Baker said. "Guys hitting the ball out of the ballpark to tie the game and [the Pirates] get two or three two-out RBI hits at the right time.

"I've never seen nothing like this in a long time. And then we left runners out there again with less than two outs. Those come back to haunt us. We shouldn't have been in that situation [in the ninth]."

Still, the Cubs led 3-2 going into the ninth inning. Hawkins got one out before Jason Bay lined a homer into the right-field bleachers. Craig Wilson then walked and Rob Mackowiak struck out before Baker pulled Hawkins.

Pinch-hitter Freddy Sanchez greeted lefty Glendon Rusch with an RBI triple, and the damage was done.

After Neifi Perez and pinch-hitter Ben Grieve singled in the bottom of the inning, Corey Patterson struck out swinging to end the game. He had homered in the eighth to give the Cubs the lead.

Hawkins, who came to the Cubs as a free agent with a reputation as one of baseball's best eighth-inning setup men in Minnesota, has had trouble in the ninth.

"Yeah, I relish [the closer's role]," Hawkins said.

"I'm up for all challenges. I'm just frustrated because Maddux pitched his butt off."

Maddux took his share of the blame as well after allowing two runs in the seventh on a pair of two-out singles, a wild pitch, a stolen base and ex-Cub Bobby Hill's double.

"I screwed up," said Maddux, who gave up four hits in eight innings. "I could have been a lot better in the seventh and it would have made the ninth inning go smoother for everybody."

The Cubs had given Maddux a 2-0 lead with single runs in the third and sixth innings.

The first run came on Jerry Hairston's double that scored Perez. The second came on Jason Dubois' double that scored Aramis Ramirez, who had walked.

Maddux refused to blame the cold weather and a north wind that was blowing over the left-field wall at up to 36 m.p.h.

"They don't get any easier than that," he said. "It was tough to score runs today."

Just not tough enough against Hawkins in the ninth inning.

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