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Cubs drop final home game to Pirates

CHICAGO (AP) -- With the rain coming down and the atmosphere
gloomy, the Cubs' disappointing season at Wrigley Field came to an
appropriately miserable end.

Bases loaded in the ninth and nobody out. Of course, they didn't
score.

"It was very symbolic. It seems likes we get in that situation
and we don't get anything. It's very frustrating," manager Dusty
Baker said after Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"We had a great chance to win that game."

The Cubs figured to win a lot of games this season, especially
at their cozy neighborhood ball park. Instead, baseball's lovable
losers were 38-43 at Wrigley Field and must sweep a four-game
series at Houston to finish at .500 overall.

The announced attendance on an overcast day was 37,491, giving
the Cubs 3,099,992 for 80 home dates, the second-largest attendance
figure in club history.

"We had a hard time holding up our end of the bargain," Baker
said.

Pirates reliever Salomon Torres pitched a scoreless eighth and
gave up a single to Matt Murton in the ninth. After Mike Gonzalez
relieved, Jeromy Burnitz reached on second baseman J.J. Furmaniak's
error when he couldn't come up with his hard shot and Henry Blanco
walked to load the bases with no outs.

"I was having a little trouble getting the grip of the ball.
The rosin was wet and my hands were wet, so I had to deal with
that," Gonzalez said. "What I wanted to do was strike out the
lefties I had in front of me and get the other guy to ground out or
pop up."

And that's what he did to the dismay of Baker and the Cubs.

Gonzalez earned his third save in three chances by striking out
Corey Patterson and pinch-hitter Ben Grieve, then retiring Jose
Macias on a popup.

"We get so much fan support, you'd think you'd play well here,
but we didn't," Chicago's Derrek Lee said. "It's something we
have to get better at."

Paul Maholm (3-1) made his sixth major league start and
outpitched Mark Prior (11-7), who lost to Pittsburgh for the first
time in his career. Maholm, a 23-year-old left-hander, gave up two
runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Nate McLouth's fourth homer of the season, a solo shot, gave
Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead in the fifth against Prior. Dropping to 6-1
in 11 starts against the Pirates, Prior allowed three runs -- one
earned -- and six hits in five innings with seven strikeouts and
four walks.

"I felt out of synch all day. The ball never felt comfortable
coming out of my hand," Prior said.

Maholm allowed one hit in the first four innings, a single by
Prior in the third.

"I just wanted to go out and end the year on a good note,"
Maholm said. "I didn't want to go into the offseason after getting
shelled. It's going to be great competition in spring training. I
think I'm in the mix."

Macias lead off the sixth with his first homer of the season,
driving in Chicago's first run. Lee singled and Nomar Garciaparra,
whose costly error in the second led to two unearned runs, doubled
off the right-field wall. Matt Murton pulled the Cubs within a run
with an RBI grounder to shortstop.

Prior was shaky from the outset, hitting leadoff batter Freddy
Sanchez and walking two before pitching out of a bases-loaded jam
in the first.

Humberto Cota and Furmaniak singled in the second and, one out
later, Sanchez hit a perfect double-play grounder to Garciaparra at
third, but his throw to second hit Cota's helmet and sailed into
right field for an error that allowed Cota to score. Furmaniak
moved to third and scored on Jason Bay's two-out single, which gave
him 100 RBI for the season.

"They say come to the ballpark and you'll see something you
haven't seen before," Baker said. "I haven't seen that before,
you hit a guy in the helmet on the double-play ball."

For the Cubs, that's the kind of season it's been.

Game notes
Sanchez extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a
fourth-inning single. ... Bay has played in all 159 Pirates games
this season. ... Cubs rookie INF Ryan Theriot was unavailable after
getting food poisoning. ... The Pirates (65-94) have Thursday off
and then close out the season with a three-game series at home
against Milwaukee. ... Pittsburgh is 10-13 since Pete Mackanin took
over as interim manager. ... Macias' homer was his first in a year
and a day. He homered against Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 2004. He hit
three last season. ... The grounds crew led the singing during the
seventh-inning stretch.