McCutchen, Maholm lead way in victory at the halfway mark
Pirates starting pitcher Paul Maholm waves to the fans after he tormented Cubs batters all day, allowing one earned run while striking out eight over 7 2/3 innings.
Alex Presley, left, greets Andrew McCutchen at home plate after McCutchen hit a three-run home run in the third inning against the Chicago Cubs Sunday at PNC Park.
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There were no champagne showers in the Pirates' clubhouse Sunday afternoon.
Loud music and a few smiles, but no grandiose celebrations.
The Pirates completed the traditional first half of the season by clubbing the Cubs, 9-1, and enter the All-Star break with a winning record for the first time since 1992. That was also the last season they finished with a winning record.
"We have a second half to go," said center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who drove in five runs in front of a crowd of 31,428 at PNC Park.
With the win, the Pirates (47-43) gave themselves a chance to capture a share of first place in the National League Central Division. But the players weren't searching for scoring updates after the victory. The clubhouse television was tuned to an action movie, not a baseball game.
When: 8 p.m., Tuesday.
Where Chase Field, Phoenix.
"It's early," said Pirates starter Paul Maholm, who struck out eight in 72/3 innings and lowered his ERA to 2.96. "If we keep winning series, all of that will take care of itself."
Central Division co-leaders St. Louis and Milwaukee won, meaning the Pirates will be one game out of first place in the division when action resumes after the All-Star Game. They were 18 games out of first at the All-Star Game last year.
The Pirates took two of three games from the Cubs, marking the fifth consecutive three-game series they have won.
"If you play good baseball, you've got a chance to win," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We played better than them today. We flat out out-pitched them, we out-fielded them, we out-hit them. That gives you a chance to win. That's how we've been able to put together this little drum roll we've been on as far as series."
Maholm (6-9) cruised through the Cubs' lineup, allowing four hits. He got a bit of support from his defense, which -- despite two errors -- completed five double plays. Hurdle credited Maholm for keeping his pitches low in the strike zone, forcing Chicago batters to hit ground balls.
"That's what I'm trying for," Maholm said. "I'm trying to get ground ball after ground ball. Those guys [infielders] are going to have every opportunity -- hopefully they hit it right at them and they make plays."
He has been impressive against the Cubs throughout his career, with a 9-2 record. He had a complete-game shutout against Chicago (37-55) earlier this season.
Maholm has allowed fewer than three runs in six of his past seven starts. For a change, he got some run support. By the time he surrendered his first hit -- a fourth-inning single by Starlin Castro -- the Pirates had taken a 5-0 lead.
"I'm just glad I didn't screw it up today," Maholm said. "I'm trying to put up zeros, not matter how many runs we've got."
His counterpart, making his second major league start this season, did not fare so well. Ramon Ortiz (0-2) was chased in the fourth inning after giving up six earned runs and seven hits.
McCutchen had only one of those hits, but his five RBIs helped put an exclamation point on the Pirates' surprising first half.
"It feels good to finish up strong," he said.
McCutchen drove in his 50th run of the season with a first-inning sacrifice fly that scored Alex Presley, giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead. McCutchen added three more RBIs in the third inning when he connected on an 0-1 fastball and sent it 10 feet over the center-field wall for his 14th home run of the season.
Prior to McCutchen's blast, Neil Walker doubled to right field to score Maholm from second base, giving Walker a team-leading 59 RBIs.
Walker, who went 3 for 4 with two runs scored on the afternoon, has now hit safely in all 18 of his career games against the Cubs.
The Pirates return to action Friday at Houston.
First Published July 11, 2011 12:00 am