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Bad toss, another loss for Hawkins
LaTroy Hawkins had an explanation Friday for all the strange goings-on that have been haunting the Cubs this spring.
"The baseball gods are testing us right now," the Cubs' reliever said. "That's all."
The team appears to be failing that test, as was evident in Friday's 3-2 loss to the Phillies before 38,767 stunned fans at Wrigley Field.
With the Cubs leading 2-1 in the ninth after Derrek Lee's two-out, two-run homer off Billy Wagner in the eighth, manager Dusty Baker called on Hawkins to close out the game.
Instead, Hawkins loaded the bases with one out before inducing pinch-hitter Placido Polanco to line one back to him. After a quick glance at third and second, Hawkins wheeled and threw to first base in an attempt to nail Jose Offerman for a game-ending double play.
But the throw deflected off the sliding Offerman's helmet and ricocheted into the stands, allowing the runners a two-base advance. David Bell and Pat Burrell scored, Offerman was awarded third and the Phillies led 3-2.
"I couldn't hit [the helmet] again if I needed to," Hawkins said.
The deflection for the Phillies figures to go down in Wrigley Field lore, along with the ball Cubs right-fielder Larry Biittner lost in his cap in 1977 and the Pete Rose liner that deflected off Cubs reliever Lee Smith in '84 and turned into a game-ending double play.
Lee called it "an unbelievably bad break," while Baker said it was another first for him.
"I've never seen a game lost like that," he said. "I thought we finally got a stroke of luck.
The last few days have been endings of games I've rarely seen."
Hawkins acknowledged he "should have held onto the ball," but no one in the Cubs' clubhouse faulted him for trying to end the game with one throw.
"Tough call," Lee said. "Your instincts take over.
You see the guy off the base and you're going to try to make that throw."
Wagner pitched a perfect ninth for his first victory. The Cubs have dropped six straight, their longest streak since dropping nine in a row May 8-18, 2002, the beginning of the end for then-manager Don Baylor.
"Once you've played long enough, you've seen it all," Cubs outfielder Jeromy Burnitz said. "I've been on a couple of teams where I've seen stuff like this. It's not that surprising actually. It's a bummer is what it is."
The Cubs wasted a strong outing from starter Mark Prior, who served up a leadoff home run to Burrell in the second but limited the Phillies to one run on four hits over eight innings, striking out 10. He pitched out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the second by striking out the side.
"It was a good ballgame," Prior said. "Obviously everyone is going to focus on what happened in the ninth, but it was a good old-fashioned ballgame for the most part."
Cory Lidle held the Cubs to four hits in 71/3 innings before Lee's two-run homer off Wagner spoiled the closer's perfect earned-run average. Hawkins started the ninth by giving up a base hit to Burrell before Bell reached on an infield hit off Hawkins' glove.
"If he doesn't knock that down, we get a chance to get a double play and nobody is on base," Baker said.
Offerman walked with one out after being down in the count 0-2 to load the bases, setting up the game-turning line drive. Booed while jogging to the mound as he left the bullpen, Hawkins was jeered roundly after blowing a save opportunity for the 11th time in 18 chances since the start of the '04 season.
Lee urged Cubs fans to cut Hawkins a little slack.
"You understand how the fans feel," Lee said. "They want us to win. But if you want a guy to do better, you show a little support."