Knocking out Pirates' Maholm? Not on this night
Paul Maholm, is greeted by teammates in the dugout. Maholm was the winning pitcher in the Pirates' 3-1 victory.
Second baseman Delwyn Young avoids Milwaukee's McGehee to turn a double play in the second inning last night at PNC Park.
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Now, here is irony ...
In a see-saw season in which Paul Maholm has heard whispers all summer long that he must be injured, the one game in which he legitimately pitched hurt -- struck twice by line drives -- resulted in one of the most durable, dynamic performances of his career as the Pirates beat Milwaukee, 3-1, last night at PNC Park to cap a three-game sweep of the Brewers.
"That guy, Maholm, I didn't know he's a warrior," recently acquired shortstop Ronny Cedeno said. "I knew he had good stuff, but I didn't know that. I thought for sure one of those was going to knock him out of the game."
That, evidently, would take some doing.
In the fourth inning, Mike Cameron's liner caromed off Maholm's left -- and pitching -- triceps to second baseman Delwyn Young for a groundout. Manager John Russell visited the mound with athletic trainer Brad Henderson, but Maholm soon shooed them away.
- Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: Charlie Morton (2-6, 5.51) vs. RHP Micah Owings (6-11, 5.35).
In the eighth, Alcides Escobar's comebacker struck Maholm's left shin loud enough to be heard through the stadium, but he corralled it, one knee in the grass, and fired to first for the out. Another visit from Russell and Henderson, another shooing.
By the time Maholm was done, his tally included two bruises, one fine line -- a run on eight hits over 7 2/3 innings -- and the audible appreciation of the 12,630 who rose and roared when Russell finally took the ball with the pitch count at 110.
"Paul had a little bull's-eye on him, didn't he?" Russell said, grinning. "He did a great job, all around. He pitched well, put his defense to work and stayed very efficient."
Maholm shrugged off questions about the bruises as easily as he had shooed away help.
"Just a rough day," he said with a laugh. "Nothing major. It'll be fine. I'll be back Friday to get my running and throwing in."
Earlier, there was one other opportunity to knock out Maholm, and that failed, too: The pitch count was at 103 through seven innings, and his spot in the order was due up second in the bottom half. But Russell unflinchingly stuck by him and, as fate would have it, Maholm stroked a double.
"I love that move, and not just because Paul made JR look like a genius," closer Matt Capps said. "When a guy gives you that much, you let him go."
"I might have turned that into a single if I'd gotten hit in the calf before that," Maholm said with another laugh.
All the joking probably felt as refreshing as the victory, Maholm's first since July 7.
He had been visibly frustrated after allowing seven runs last week in Denver and, really, with most of his past six starts, during which he was 0-3 and saw his ERA rise to a season-high 4.93. He spent extra time on and off the field in Chicago after that, his determination glaringly evident with an unwavering drop-dead-serious demeanor.
"It's been a while," Maholm said of the victory. "Every game, it's seemed like it's been one or two pitches where, if I execute, I go deeper into the game and we win. Tonight, it was kind of my determination to get back to how I threw last year, to do whatever I had to do to get to the eighth inning, get to the guys in the bullpen and let them put it away."
The bullpen seemed to take to that no less seriously, handed a 3-1 lead.
"When someone giving it all he's got like that, you're pumped," Capps said.
Joel Hanrahan stranded Maholm's runner in the eighth by retiring his lone batter, then smacked his glove demonstratively coming off the mound. And Capps blazed through the heart of the Brewers' order 1-2-3 in the ninth -- throwing mostly fastballs at 94-95 mph -- for his 22nd save but the first all month.
Highlighted was a strikeout of Prince Fielder with a cut fastball that Capps began throwing on the side all of three days ago.
"Thought I'd give it a try," Capps said.
Cedeno's ninth home run, fourth in 18 games since joining the Pirates, was a two-run shot driven hard into the base of the left-field rotunda, off Yovani Gallardo's two-ball hanging slider.
"I got my pitch," Cedeno said.
Andrew McCutchen manufactured a 3-0 lead in the next inning, leading off with a single, stealing second and coming around on the first of Delwyn Young's two doubles.
The Pirates had looked like the worst team in Major League Baseball in losing 13 of 14 until this sweep, just their third all season and the first since taking three from the New York Mets June 1-4. But they got quality starts from Kevin Hart, Ross Ohlendorf and Maholm, a sudden spate of home runs -- five in the series after none in the five games in Denver and Chicago -- and error-free defense.
All that, and they pretty much knocked nemesis Milwaukee from wild-card contention, the Brewers now nine games back in that race. That is quite the turnaround for the Pirates, who had lost 17 in a row to Milwaukee, but have taken five of six meetings since breaking that streak July 20.
Russell acknowledged some satisfaction in that.
"It's great," he said. "They had our number, and we've started playing better against them ever since we beat them the one time. It's a great feeling for all of us."
First Published August 20, 2009 12:00 am