Zach Duke watched squibber after squibber squeak through the Pirates' infield for single after single in Chicago's first inning, with nary an out in sight.
Surely, this had to change.
Well, it did: One batter actually hit the ball hard and, then, the defense would begin hurting him, too.
All told, the Cubs would string eight consecutive hits to open the game, tying a Major League Baseball record, and score seven times on the way to a 9-4 rout last night at PNC Park, a thorough humbling for the home team that included some biting reactions from the 17,862 who paid to watch.
"I'll tell you what," Duke said afterward, after a deep breath. "I made some pretty good pitches that ended up being hits. I really don't know how to explain it."
• Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
• Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Kevin Hart (4-5, 4.67) vs. RHP Carlos Zambrano (7-6, 3.80).
• Key matchup: Expect Brandon Moss and Ryan Doumit back in the lineup. Moss is 3 for 8 with a home run off Zambrano, Doumit 5 for 14 with a double and three walks.
• Of note: Reliever Jesse Chavez's 63 appearances are the most among National League rookies.
"It was unfortunate," manager John Russell said. "The balls just kept finding their way through the infield. I've never really seen anything like it."
No one has in quite some time: Eight opening hits was previously achieved Aug. 25, 1990, by the New York Yankees against the Baltimore Orioles. The most recent in the National League had been Aug. 25, 1975, by the Pirates against the Atlanta Braves.
Playing back all eight...
1. Ryan Theriot's roller was stopped by shortstop Ronny Cedeno but too far in the hole.
2. Milton Bradley's ball died in the grass in front of first baseman Steve Pearce. Again, no play.
3. Derrek Lee's broken-bat bouncer eluded the glove of second baseman Ramon Vazquez. Bases loaded.
"It was a fastball up and in, right where I wanted it," Duke said.
4. The only infielder still not victimized was Andy LaRoche, but Aramis Ramirez's bouncer went his way, he short-armed it, and it slipped into left field for two runs.
No error was charged, but...
"If I make that play, the inning's different," LaRoche said.
5. Jeff Baker grounded one past Pearce. Still no ball struck with enough authority to penetrate a soggy paper towel.
6. Then, Geovany Soto drilled a two-run double off the Clemente Wall.
"Soto's ball was it," Duke said. "And that one hurt."
7. Almost as much as Kosuke Fukudome dropping a soft double down the left-field line for two more runs.
8. Bobby Scales' grounder to Cedeno brought a third infield single.
After all the hits, Ryan Dempster put down a sacrifice bunt -- yes, it took a pitcher giving himself up -- that brought a thunderous, sarcastic roar from the crowd when Duke successfully threw to Pearce. That quickly changed to boos, though, when Cedeno muffed Theriot's grounder while trying for a play at the plate and had to settle for an out at first.
One fan in the upper deck stood and shouted, "Jack Wilson would've made that play!"
Bradley's flyout finally ended it, raising another sarcastic roar.
Duke, charged with eight runs and 12 hits over four innings, had an All-Star summer by any reasonable standard. But he has lost three in a row and given up 20 runs and 32 hits in the process, not at all reminiscent of what came before: His ERA was 3.38 on Aug. 22, and it is 4.02 now.
A more ominous number: He has given up 208 hits, tied for second-most in Major League Baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields has given up 212.
"I just have to flush this one out of my mind and move on," Duke said.
Duke has pitched 186 innings, one more than all of last year, and has not missed a start.
Could fatigue be a factor?
"I felt fine warming up, and I felt fine in the first inning," he said. "I made the pitches I wanted to make."
Russell, similarly, dismissed Duke's role in the inning.
"It was bad luck. Or good hitting," Russell said. "I can't really explain it."
The other side had similar trouble.
"It's funny, because Zach's a heck of a pitcher," the Cubs' Theriot said. "Things weren't going his way, for sure, and we were just finding holes."
LaRoche had an equally tough night, struck in the chest by a vicious hop on Lee's single in the fifth, then charged with an error in missing Ramirez's grounder in the eighth.
That brought boos, too, but the hurt probably was greater in other ways.
"I felt like I needed a chest protector out there tonight," LaRoche said.
Garrett Jones hit his 19th home run, a solo shot to deep center in the third, and added a sacrifice fly. He is batting .303 and has five more home runs than any National League rookie.
To avoid 100 losses, the Pirates must go 9-16 the rest of the way. That would require an upgrade in the rate of victories, hard as that might be to fathom, as they have gone 11-30 since the wave of trades in the final week of July.