Pirates, Maholm have Metrodome misadventure
Pittsburgh pitcher Paul Maholm throws against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning of last night's game in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Twins Jason Kubel, left, looks for the call after he was tagged out by Pirates catcher Jason Jaramillo after Kubel tried to score from first on a double by Michael Cuddyer in the second inning of last night's game.
Pirates Freddy Sanchez, left, and Jack Wilson, center, congratulate Nyger Morgan, right, on his two-run home run off Minnesota's Glen Perkins in the third inning.
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins batted .560 off Paul Maholm -- 14 for 25, a rate that would bring a blush out of Rod Carew or Kirby Puckett -- in bouncing the Pirates, 8-2, last night at the Metrodome.
Some were bloops, some bleeders, some flat-out belted.
Whatever the case, eight runs scored in Maholm's five-plus innings for his worst start of the summer, and it was far more than his teammates could overcome in this interleague series opener, especially on a night when so much else went wrong: The offense did close to the minimum with 11 hits, and the outfield lost a critical popup in the always-confounding ceiling here.
"Tough night," third baseman Andy LaRoche said. "One of those you want to forget."
No one more than Maholm: In addition to all those hits, he ran up a pitch count of 97, walked one, fell behind nine batters and threw two wild pitches, mostly the result of an inability to get his sinker to sink.
"He had trouble getting the ball down early and, by the time he got it down, it was too late," manager John Russell said.
Maholm had been fairly sharp in going seven innings each of his previous three starts.
"I just didn't make my pitches this time, and they're a good-hitting team," he said. "Some balls dropped in, but they squared some up, too. It was just about throwing balls thigh-high instead of getting it down."
• Game: Pirates vs. Minnesota Twins, 8:10 p.m., Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (1-7, 5.25) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (2-7, 5.99).
• Key matchup: Snell and Liriano are two of nine pitchers in Major League Baseball with seven or more losses. Only the Milwaukee Brewers' Manny Parra has more, with eight.
• Of note: The Pirates played 786 consecutive games on grass before taking to the artificial turf last night. Their previous game on turf came July 11, 2004, against the Montreal Expos in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Jack Wilson, John Grabow and Sean Burnett were on that team.
This lowered Maholm's record to 4-3 and raised his ERA to a season-high 4.23, but perhaps he can take solace in this: Each of the previous three times he allowed five or more runs, he responded in his next start by pitching at least seven innings, never allowing more than two runs.
"Paul will be fine," Russell said.
"I understand games like this happen," Maholm said. "We'll go back to the bullpen and work on getting the ball down."
Minnesota's Glen Perkins became the latest in a line of struggling opposing pitchers to heal themselves against the Pirates. He had been 1-3 with a 5.36 ERA and, more glaring, was pitching for the first time since May 18 because of elbow inflammation, but he managed to keep the Pirates to two runs off seven hits in his six innings.
"We've got to score more than two runs," Russell said.
"We keep saying it, but we need to swing the bats better," second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "When we do, we're a pretty good team."
The numbers back that: When the Pirates score a mere four runs in a game, they are 24-8. When they do not, they are 6-28.
Minnesota scored once in each of the first two innings, but Nyjer Morgan negated that with one stunning swing in the second: After Jack Wilson led off with a double, Morgan launched a Perkins fastball high over the right-field baggy for his first home run, second of his career, ninth in 659 professional games, to tie the score at 2-2.
Somehow, Morgan rounded the bases with the cool of Albert Pujols.
"Felt good, man," he said. "He put that pitch right in my honey."
That was Morgan-speak for his wheelhouse, a facet of his hitting not often brought up.
Whatever fun he and the Pirates had in the dugout at that point -- "Oh, there was a lot," designated hitter Craig Monroe said -- did not last: Maholm gave up three singles and a walk in the third, and the Twins were back ahead, 4-2.
The Pirates had a chance to climb back again in the fifth, with bases loaded and one out for Adam LaRoche, but he rolled over Perkins' first pitch for a 4-6-3 double play.
Minnesota made that sting in the bottom half: With a runner at first, Joe Crede skied a popup to right-center. Andrew McCutchen and Delwyn Young converged, McCutchen looked at Young, both stopped, McCutchen backtracked toward center, and the ball plopped for a groaner of an RBI double that put the Twins ahead, 5-2.
"Didn't see it," McCutchen said. "They tell you not to take your eye off the ball here, but I had to look at D.Y."
"I lost it, too," Young said.
The Pirates, in the Twin Cities for the first time since 2001, spent the bulk of the afternoon teaching adjustments to the Metrodome's artificial turf and the white roof that can visually swallow popups, but neither was a factor on this play. Rather, all concerned said, it was the low bank of lights behind third base that can blind a right fielder.
"Everyone talks about the roof," Monroe, a veteran American Leaguer, said. "It's all about the lights out in right. The ball just disappears."
Maholm was chased in the sixth without recording an out, giving up three singles for a run. Jeff Karstens relieved and gave up a sacrifice fly and Joe Mauer's RBI double that was the Minnesota All-Star's fourth hit in as many at-bats and drew a lengthy standing ovation from the 25,351 on hand.
Mauer is batting .429.
Just about the only bright spot for the visitors: The infield turned five double plays, with Wilson, Sanchez and Adam LaRoche involved in all of them. It marked the Pirates' first time turning that many since June 12, 2007, against the Texas Rangers.
First Published June 17, 2009 12:00 am