PITTSBURGH -- The problem wasn't the effort, it was the execution.
Rookie Rafael Dolis hit Matt Hague with a pitch with the bases loaded to force in the game-winning run with two outs in the ninth and lift the Pirates to a 3-2 victory Saturday night over the Cubs, who lost their 11th straight game.
The Cubs' skid is the 15th double-digit losing streak in club history, and the first since they opened the 1997 season 0-14.
"The atmosphere in the clubhouse is great," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Nobody is really hanging their head or pouting or anything like that. I think they're doing a great job of keeping their heads up and going about their business. The preparation and work ethic is outstanding. You can't gripe about that.
"We're just not getting it done in nine innings," he said.
With the game tied at 2 in the Pirates ninth against Dolis, Jose Tabata singled and Josh Harrison walked. Dolis struck out Andrew McCutchen and got Pedro Alvarez to fly out to center. Tabata moved up on Alvarez's at-bat, and Neil Walker walked to load the bases. Dolis then hit Hague on the left arm. It was Pittsburgh's 22nd one-run game this season, the most in the Major Leagues.
"He walked two guys in the inning," Sveum said. "You're not going to come out on top when you walk that many guys or when you can't throw strikes to finish a game off."
Dolis, moved into the closer's role to replace Carlos Marmol, had a "perfect" bullpen session before coming into the game, Sveum said.
"We're having trouble with Dolis throwing back to back strikes," Sveum said. "He's throwing scuds and stuff all over the place, and then he'll throw a strike, and one all over the place again, so it's kind of the same story. We've got to fix that."
There was no team meeting prior to the game as the Cubs try to snap the losing streak.
"When we have our advance [meetings], I say something," Sveum said. "The more meetings you have, usually it's very negative. ... We're not losing because of effort. The effort has been fine."
This was a homecoming for Cubs starter Paul Maholm, who returned to face his former team for the first time. The lefty is the all-time winningest pitcher at PNC Park with 35 victories but did not get a decision this time, exiting after giving up two runs on four hits and a season-high five walks over five innings.
"I enjoyed the fans and interacting with them," Maholm said of his days in Pittsburgh. "It was obviously appreciated. For the most part, it was all cheers. Obviously, I wish we would've won."
In the Cubs third, Maholm singled with two outs and reached third on an errant throw by pitcher Kevin Correia. Starlin Castro then hit a grounder to Alvarez, who threw home. Maholm tried to step over catcher Rod Barajas but was out.
The Pirates tallied in their half as Maholm hit Tabata with a pitch to start the inning, and he moved up on a sacrifice by Harrison. McCutchen was intentionally walked and Alvarez followed with a RBI single. Walker hit a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
The problem wasn't that Maholm was tired after running the bases. He was ticked off.
"I thought I was going to score and had no clue who was throwing home," Maholm said. "I was kind of mad and tried to go out and put up a zero and not be aggressive and I tried to nitpick and make perfect pitches, and it turned into 35, 40 pitches. It was just kind of uncharacteristic."
On the plus side, the Cubs did finally score. Alfonso Soriano ended the scoreless inning streak at 20 with a solo homer with two outs in the fourth.
Castro stopped another streak in the fifth. With two outs, David DeJesus doubled and Castro followed with a triple to end the team's drought with runners in scoring position, which had reached 0-for-26. It also tied the game at two.
"We only scored two runs and once again, you're not going to win too many games when you score two runs," Sveum said. "That's still obviously an issue."
Plus, the four Cubs pitchers used combined to issue eight walks in the game. That won't help either.
They did try to make something happen with one out in the seventh. Rookie Blake Lalli attempted to score on pinch-hitter Adrian Cardenas' double but was easily thrown out at home.
"It's a tough situation sometimes when you have a third base coach and your team isn't scoring runs and you get caught up in the moment and here's an opporutnity," Sveum said. "They made a nice relay and Barajas made a nice pick on the short hop, too. Sometimes you just get caught up and push the envelope to score a run here or there."
The Cubs will try to end this nightmarish road trip on a good note Sunday in the series finale. All they need is one win.
"We're going through a skid and we've got to get through it," Maholm said. "There's nobody in here pointing fingers at each other. We've got to go win a game. We can't expect it to be given to us, we have to play hard, like we have been, and come up with hits and big pitches and get it done. That's our focus."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.