MIAMI -- Paul Maholm had it all going on, pitching with perhaps the best stuff of his career.
But one flub in the field and one flat slider that fed a Mike Jacobs grand slam, and the Pirates fell again to the Florida Marlins, 7-3, last night at Dolphin Stadium.
As Maholm put it, "It's a shame it worked out the way it did. Ruined a pretty good game."
In a big way.
The score was 1-1 entering the fifth, and Maholm fanned the leadoff man. But, when Matt Treanor grounded just to his left, he lost his balance, lost sight of the ball, then mishandled it, and trouble was afoot.
"It's a play I should make," Maholm said. "It's just disappointing that it led to that big inning."
- Game: Pirates vs. Florida Marlins, 1:10 p.m., Dolphin Stadium, Miami.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (0-0, 6.00 ERA) vs. RHP Rick VandenHurk (0-0, 9.00 last year).
- Key matchup: Florida's superb shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, is dangerous against Snell in more ways than one: He is 3 for 5 with a double, and he has stolen three bases off him.
- Of note: Nate McLouth has stolen 12 consecutive bases without being caught, dating to last season. Since the beginning of 2007, he has been caught once in 24 tries, that on Aug. 26 by Houston's Brad Ausmus.
Maholm fanned the next man to achieve a career-high nine strikeouts, but Dan Uggla worked an eight-pitch walk to load the bases. And Jacobs, the walkoff hero the previous night, made it 5-1 on the next pitch, one that did not go at all as planned, just 80 mph, with little bite and over the outer third of the plate when ...
"I was trying to go maybe a little farther away so that he would roll over it," Maholm said. "It was the pitch I wanted, but he guessed it and went and got it."
Jacobs long has loved pursuing the first pitch.
"Well, that, and it helped that I thought I saw him pretty well my first two times up," Jacobs said of a swinging strikeout and flyout. "I got my pitch I wanted, and I swung."
Maholm made an earlier mistake, too, when Hanley Ramirez sent his second pitch of the game over the left-field scoreboard.
"I thought he threw the ball very well, which is what we were looking for after the good spring training he had," manager John Russell said. "After that leadoff home run, he settled in and threw outstanding if you take away that one pitch to Jacobs. If he keeps throwing like that, he's going to have a lot of really good games for us."
"Stuff-wise I felt pretty good," Maholm said. "But I need to get over the one or two hitters that I really need to put away."
The Pirates scored twice in their next at-bat to pull within 5-3, those runs on Chris Gomez's bases-loaded poke to left field. But, when bases were loaded again for Nate McLouth, a bouncer to second ended the inning.
A left-hander, Renyel Pinto, was summoned just to face him.
"The guy made a couple good pitches," McLouth said. "It would be nice to get a big hit or two, I think, for all of us. You can say that every night, but it really seemed like it tonight."
The Marlins got those runs right back, anyway, to make it 7-3.
Russell summoned Evan Meek, the Rule 5 pick, to pitch the bottom half, and that went as poorly as Meek's first outing: Jorge Cantu singled, Brett Carroll tripled to deep center, and Treanor's squeeze bunt resulted in Meek throwing the ball by Gomez into right field.
Damaso Marte, who had been warming up alongside Meek, had to clean up the mess and did so with dominance: He got a popup, then struck out the other four batters he faced, including a sizzling 1-2-3 seventh inning.
Which might raise the question: Why not summon the veteran to open the sixth?
"We're going to have to use him," Russell said of Meek. "He's on the team, part of our bullpen."
He noted, too, that Florida had Nos. 5-7 due up in the lineup.
"I don't want to say it's an easy part of the order, but I felt like he had a good chance to get through the inning. He left a couple balls up. He's going to have to get into some kind of rhythm because he's going to have to pitch for us."
Meek's ERA through two appearances: 36.00.
The one positive therein, obviously, was that Marte shrugged off the serious wildness of his first two appearances.
"That was nice," Marte said. "I don't know what happened to me before. Maybe I lost my mind or something."
The Pirates again did little offensively, mustering eight hits, including one for extra bases -- Jason Bay's first of the season, a double -- and three hits in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Adam LaRoche was 0 for 4 behind Bay, Xavier Nady 0 for 3 behind LaRoche.
They also were charged with two more errors and, yes, lost two more runners on the basepaths: Luis Rivas was thrown out in the first inning trying to stretch a single to right into a double, and Maholm was called out in the second when, between first and second base, he failed to dodge a McLouth grounder.
Season total for lost runners now stands at seven, not including stolen-base attempts.
And the Pirates' record now stands at 2-3, the first time below .500.
Will they see it again?
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published April 6, 2008 4:00 AM