MILWAUKEE -- The Pirates' pitching staff has been the unquestioned worst in Major League Baseball in 2008, and it now has a banner to hang in commemoration.
With an erratic close to an otherwise terrific summer, Paul Maholm, the team's best by a wide margin, finished with a 9-9 record after a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers last night at Miller Park. Given that no one else has a chance at 10 wins, that formally marks just the second time in the franchise's 122 years that the staff failed to get someone into double-digits.
The other occasion came with the franchise's unquestioned worst team, the 1890 Pittsburg Alleghenys, who got a staff-best 4-6 record out of Billy Gumbert. Rick Rhoden's staff-best record in 1981 was 9-4, but that was part of a strike-shortened season.
Next highest in the Pirates' current victory column?
Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and reliever John Grabow each has six.
- Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 8:05 p.m., Miller Park.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (5-14, 4.96) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.80).
- Key matchup: J.J. Hardy has tortured Duke, going 10 for 17 with four home runs, a double and nine RBIs.
- Of note: Freddy Sanchez's .342 average since the All-Star break ranks third in the National League behind the Los Angeles Dodgers' Manny Ramirez (.395) and St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols(.350).
That might explain why Maholm, who has emerged as a leader in more ways than one the past few months, did not appear in much mood to extol his own virtues after this one.
"Over the whole year, I've come in ready to go, made my pitches when I needed to," he said. "Right now, though, it's disappointing. I reached a couple goals, but the main goal is for the team to win. In the offseason, hopefully, everybody comes back here ready to win."
Maholm, whose numbers ended up at a 3.71 ERA and a career-high 206 1/3 innings, was charged with four runs -- three earned -- on two hits over six innings, which sounds OK until one looks across the line and sees those six walks. Half came in the Brewers' three-run fourth inning.
"What can you say?" Maholm said. "I beat myself. I let the team down. That's the No. 1 rule as a pitcher, that you don't beat yourself. And I walk that many guys. To only give up two singles and four runs -- that's pretty pathetic on my part."
His counterpart, CC Sabathia, made sure Milwaukee tied the New York Mets in the National League wild-card race: Pitching on three days' rest for a second consecutive start, he struck out 11 Pirates while holding them to one run and four hits over seven innings.
This despite a 28-pitch first inning in which he fanned Adam LaRoche and Steve Pearce after loading the bases.
"He's amazing," LaRoche said.
"You look at what he does, and he's not just throwing out there. He's pitching," left fielder Jason Michaels said. "That's what he did against us the last time, too."
That, of course, was the controversial one-hit shutout Aug. 31 at PNC Park, when the Brewers felt an official scoring decision cost Sabathia a no-hitter.
"I just pounded the strike zone," Sabathia said. "That's something I haven't done in a while."
Of his 107 pitches, 70 were strikes.
"If it matters, I want to pitch," he said of his heavy workload of late. "We need to get into the playoffs, and you only get so many chances in a career to win a championship. That's what I want."
Sabathia is expected to pitch yet again on three days' rest if the Brewers need him in their season finale Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.
The Pirates did nick him in the third when Nyjer Morgan singled, was bunted to second and came around on Michaels' two-out single to right. But that would be their last hit off anyone until LaRoche's solo home run off Salomon Torres in the ninth, his 24th.
Maholm had not allowed a hit through three, but Milwaukee batted around in that pivotal fourth and took a 3-1 lead: Mike Cameron singled, Bill Hall walked and, after an out, Prince Fielder singled in a run. Next came three more walks wrapped around a strikeout of Corey Hart, the latter two with bases loaded.
"Lost my rhythm and never found it," Maholm said. "For some reason, I was missing with every single pitch."
"It's unfortunate," manager John Russell said. "He had that one inning where he kind of stumbled. But there's nothing he should be upset about, with the way he pitched all year."
Russell added a rare complaint about umpiring, noting the work of Derryl Cousins behind the plate.
"I thought Darryl had a little bit of a tough night behind the plate for both teams."
Milwaukee has taken 13 of 14 from the Pirates this season, and the Brewers have won 14 in a row at Miller Park dating to last season.
They will go for the three-game sweep tonight with Zach Duke facing Yovani Gallardo, pitching for the first time since May following knee surgery.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com. First Published September 25, 2008 4:00 AM