Pirates' finest mows down Reds, 5-2, with eight strong innings
August 14, 2008 8:00 AM
Luis Rivas, left, congratulates Brandon Moss after Moss hit his first home run at PNC Park as a member of the Pirates, connecting in the eighth inning last night.
By Dejan Kovacevic
Nate McLouth had his All-Star moment at Yankee Stadium.
Ryan Doumit, too, has heard plaudits from around the National League.
But it is entirely plausible that, by the time this 122nd season for the Pirates comes to a close, no player on the roster will have had more of a breakout performance than Paul Maholm.
Look it up ...
His eight seemingly effortless innings in the 5-2 silencing of the Cincinnati Reds last night at PNC Park marked his 18th consecutive start of six-plus innings, raised his record to 8-7 and lowered his ERA to 3.69.
Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (4-9, 6.06) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (7-11, 5.01).
Key matchup: Cincinnati's Javier Valentin is 9 for 18 vs. Snell, with two home runs and five RBIs.
Of note: The Reds have used a rookie starting pitcher 35 times, and all three of those pitchers -- Cueto, Homer Bailey, Daryl Thompson -- are 22. They are a combined 7-19 with a 5.71 ERA.
Dig deeper: That ERA, the key number for a starter, now ranks 15th among all of the league's qualified pitchers. His 2.81 ERA since the end of May is third among all Major League Baseball left-handers behind CC Sabathia and Johan Santana. And his strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span is 85 to 29.
"Absolutely," Doumit said. "He's coming into his own. He's a stud. I'm glad he's on our team. I wouldn't want to face him. You just look at those six-inning starts alone, and you see that consistency. That's a stud."
"He's been just outstanding for us, and he was again tonight," manager John Russell said. "You feel good when he takes the mound."
Maholm, befitting a not-too-high, not-too-low personality, predictably blushed away from any superlatives.
"Honestly, to me, it's just going out there and doing my job," he said. "It's not about having a breakout season or anything. I put the pressure on myself to be successful."
On a less tangible level but perhaps no less impressive, Maholm has succeeded in the framework of some of the worst starting pitching in franchise history. Put it this way: He now has pitched eight innings or more seven times. The rest of the staff has done it once, that on Jeff Karstens' perfect-game bid last week.
"Well, my goal is to pitch better than the night before," Maholm said. "Hopefully, everyone will pick it up and outdo me. Nothing would be better than that."
There were two blips on this night. Blasts, actually: Corey Patterson homered in the third, Jay Bruce in the seventh to account for all of Cincinnati's offense, and Bruce's came on a clear mistake pitch, a two-strike, elevated fastball.
Otherwise, Maholm pounded the strike zone relentlessly -- zero walks, 22 first-pitch strikes, just four three-ball counts -- in a clear attempt to pitch to contact.
"The left side of their infield is really alert because he's throwing sinkers and changeups," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "He's been great lately, but he got some defensive help, and they turned some double plays."
Three, to be exact.
Which raises an oddity: Maholm has alternated high and low strikeout totals of late, fluctuating from seven to five to nine to two to 10 to the four last night.
He smiled when that topic was raised.
"I really just wanted to go deeper in the game, and the strikeouts get my pitch count up," he said. "I think it's just a matter of mixing pitches and letting the defense make the plays. I went right after them and stayed ahead. The home runs ... those happen. I just kept pitching."
The pitch count was 97, the strike count 65.
The Pirates' offense, which had given Maholm two total runs of support in his previous three starts, made sure the blasts were immaterial with a four-run fifth inning that chased Josh Fogg.
Brandon Moss got it going with a double, and Jason Michaels lashed a 2-2 changeup into the bleachers for his eighth home run and a 2-1 lead. Luis Rivas walked and, two outs later, Doug Mientkiewicz walked and Nate McLouth walked to load the bases.
Doumit doubled off the top of the Clemente Wall for two more runs and was robbed of an RBI because a fan interfered by reaching over the railing and making contact with the ball. The fan was not ejected.
Bruce pulled the Reds within two, but Moss' fourth home run -- second since joining the Pirates and first at PNC -- answered in the eighth. That came off Mike Lincoln, and it landed in the bullpen beyond center for one final roar from the 15,787 on hand.
"My power is to center, and that's where you're going to see me hit here," Moss said. "I know this park is great for lefties who pull, but that's not my game."
Between that blast and some fine third base by Andy LaRoche, the newcomers looked markedly more comfortable than in their Pittsburgh debut the previous night.
Ian Snell and the Pirates will try to take series tonight.