HOUSTON -- Never mind that the Pirates finally beat someone.
How about actually frustrating someone?
Paul Maholm's eight scoreless innings had Houston's batters fit to be tied, and closer Matt Capps' vocal charge that the Astros' Miguel Tejada was stealing signs made for a heated finish to this 2-1 victory yesterday at Minute Maid Park.
To that last matter first ...
Capps inherited a 2-0 lead in the ninth and immediately gave up Lance Berkman's home run.
"Solo home run," Capps said with a shrug. "I don't want to walk him and have someone aboard."
Carlos Lee, the next batter, took care of that with a single, and Houston was humming.
Tejada then skied a popup to short and, as he trotted toward first, Capps came off the mound and gestured with his glove toward Tejada and first base coach Jose Cruz, vocally accusing both of stealing catcher Ryan Doumit's signs during the at-bat.
• Game: Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 10:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium.
• Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Daniel McCutchen (0-1, 4.85) vs. RHP Jon Garland (9-11, 4.23).
• Key matchup: McCutchen might have been too aggressive in his first two starts, judging by opponents' .545 batting average and two home runs off the first pitch of an at-bat.
• Of note: Over the past seven seasons, the Pirates have lost 16 of their past 21 at Chavez Ravine, getting outscored, 129-73.
"Those two have a thing going out there. I'm set, and he's not even looking at me," Capps said of Tejada. "That tells me all I need to know. Just compete. You don't need to do that stuff."
Tejada turned to face Capps but was visibly puzzled. A handful of Astros emerged from their dugout, but nothing more happened.
Tejada seemed no clearer about the incident afterward.
"I don't know what is going on," Tejada said. "I have no idea why a pitcher would mock a guy after getting him out, but I am going to find out from him. I could not even understand what he said. That's the first time I have ever seen someone yelling at a guy for getting out."
Reached later by phone by the Houston Chronicle and told of the Post-Gazette report on Capps' stance, Tejada said, "I've never gotten signs. If he wants to disrespect me, that's fine. He shouldn't disrespect any coach."
No one else on either side commented on the matter.
Hunter Pence bounced into a 1-6-3 double play, and Capps recorded his 25th save in his first opportunity since Aug. 27.
"Matt just needs to get out there," manager John Russell said. "We haven't had him doing a lot."
Overall, it had to be a relief to Russell not only to see a pulse from his free-falling team but also to win: The Pirates ended a five-game losing streak, as well as a 13-game road losing streak that was the franchise's longest since a 19-game run in 1985.
Moreover, they had just lost 14 of 15 overall, their worst such stretch since a 1-15 run way back on May 11-29, 1955.
"It's been a tough go, especially on the road," Russell said. "The guys continue to give it all they have."
No one gave more than Maholm, who appeared determined to win this one singlehandedly: He held Houston to six hits and two walks over his eight efficient innings -- 95 pitches, 64 strikes -- and used his all-the-way-back sinker to get 14 groundouts and two double plays neatly started by third baseman Andy LaRoche.
"It was good," Maholm said of the sinker. "I felt like I really got it down. I had a lot of confidence in it, and it's the best I've felt pitching that long in any game all year. The defense picked me up big-time, too, especially a couple plays Andy made."
This was key, as well: Maholm threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of 29 batters.
"When Paul's sinker is like that, he goes right after guys and has quick innings," Russell said. "He did a great job."
Maholm evened his record at 8-8 and extended a five-start stretch in which he has a 2.72 ERA.
"Wow, did Maholm deserve that W," LaRoche said. "You can say that about a lot of our pitchers this year, actually. That felt really nice."
Others broke out a bit, too.
Andrew McCutchen ended an 0-for-11 by opening the game with a double. LaRoche's grounder to the right side advanced him, and he scored on Garrett Jones' single.
Ryan Doumit, who had not gone deep since Aug. 25, provided Maholm a slice of insurance in the eighth, belting his ninth home run -- off Tim Byrdak's 2-1 flattest of changeups and well beyond left-center -- to make it 2-0.
To avoid 100 losses, the Pirates must now go 8-13. But seven of those games come against the first-place Dodgers, the opponent tonight in Los Angeles.
First Published September 14, 2009 4:00 AM