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CHC@PIT: Castro jacks a two-run homer to center

PITTSBURGH -- Twelve games ago, Starlin Castro was the Cubs' No. 3 hitter, Chris Volstad was in the rotation, rookie Rafael Dolis was the closer, Geovany Soto was catching, and Kerry Wood was in the bullpen.

Now, Castro is hitting second, Volstad is starting at Triple-A Iowa, Dolis is trying to find his command, Soto is one of three catchers on the disabled list, and Wood has retired.

And, the Cubs have lost 12 in a row.

Pedro Alvarez hit a three-run home run off Matt Garza in the first inning, one of three he served up, to get the Pirates off on the right foot as they cruised to a 10-4 victory on Sunday over the Cubs at PNC Park.

This ranks among the five longest losing streaks in Cubs franchise history, which include an 0-14 start in 1997; a 13-game streak from June 12-25, 1985; a span of 13 from May 30-June 13, 1982; and a run of 12 from April 12-26.

It's featured six one-run losses, seven games in which the Cubs have scored two runs or fewer, and four games in which they've given up three or fewer.

Garza said neither he nor the Cubs are concerned with anything except turning things around.

"We just have to play," Garza said. "We have great fans. They know the game. We can't play it for the fans right now. We have to play for every guy in here and every guy has to pull on the same side of the rope -- and that's where we're at right now.

"This is going to test our character as a club. We just have to keep grinding it out and keep grinding it out. We have to keep what's [in the clubhouse] tight and not let it break up. We have to keep fighting and keep fighting, and let it turn. We're not quitters. We'll keep fighting. We'll catch a little roll soon."

During the 12-game skid, the Cubs have hit .236 (94-for-399), scored 33 runs, hit 11 homers, 19 doubles, and one triple. The pitchers have had one save opportunity, and compiled a 5.63 ERA, giving up 64 earned runs over 102 1/3 innings, and 19 home runs.

With the win, the Pirates completed the sweep, their first against any team at home since Sept. 17-19, 2010. The Cubs entered the game with the sixth lowest batting average against left-handed starters -- and couldn't put together much against Erik Bedard (3-5), who gave up two hits over six innings. Chicago fell to 1-9 against southpaws.

"We couldn't muster up really anything today," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Garza (2-3) gave up Alvarez's home run in the first, a solo shot by Andrew McCutchen in the fifth, and a two-run blast by Garrett Jones in the sixth over five-plus innings. Garza had only given up five homers over 48 1/3 innings entering the game. It's the first time he's been charged with three since the Orioles hit four off him on July 20, 2010.

"He got beat by pitches he shouldn't be throwing people, really," Sveum said. "He got beat by his fourth-best pitch, and he had a great fastball today.

"In those situations, against a couple guys, velocity gets them -- and he decided to throw changeups. It's not exactly protocol or what the game plan was. It's unfortunate and they hit them out of the ballpark. It's kind of the way things are going."

Garza said he didn't think the Pirates would be looking for changeups, but they "buggy-whipped" the pitches out of the park. The outing was frustrating.

"I left two pitches middle-down and they got 'em," Garza said. "It's upsetting, frustrating. We have to get somebody to stop this snowball."

The Pirates didn't waste any time. Jose Tabata singled to lead off and reached third on a throwing error by Garza, who fielded Josh Harrison's sacrifice but overthrew first. Tabata was forced at home on McCutchen's grounder, but Alvarez followed with his home run, the first three-run shot by a Pirates player this year.

"As soon as [Alvarez] puts up the three-spot, you feel like your back is against the wall -- especially when you know a team has eight more [innings]," Sveum said.

"You don't go, 'Hey, c'mon, offense,'" Garza said. "My first job is to keep runs off the board -- and giving a three-spot up in the first doesn't really help anybody. All it does is build pressure and make guys have to do stuff -- and we get outside of our comfort zone and start doing things we're not used to doing.

"I've got to get right quick and get ready for [San Francisco] in six days."

Castro's two-run homer highlighted a three-run eighth that helped the Cubs avoid being shut out for the third time in the 12 games.

The Cubs were 12-9 in 21 games from April 21-May 14, but now are 2-14 in their last 16. They return home to Wrigley Field on Monday for a brief three-game homestand against the Padres.

"We have passionate fans," Sveum said. "Patience is something a lot of fans don't have. I'm a huge football fan, and I don't understand the Oakland Raiders losing every game. That's the way it is. Passionate fans want to win, just like we want to win. That's just part of every city -- and especially in a city as passionate as Chicago Cubs fans are."

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