Maholm ends another Pirates skid
NEW YORK - The Pirates' best pitcher these days isn't Tom Gorzelanny, the team leader in victories, or last year's ace Ian Snell.
It's a left-hander who entered the week tied for the second-most losses in the majors.
Paul Maholm (7-12) got his second win since the All-Star break - the team's only victories in that span - and the Pirates solved former teammate Oliver Perez in an 8-4 victory over the Mets on Thursday afternoon at Shea Stadium.
"What we saw today has pretty much been Paul Maholm," manager Jim Tracy said. "He's been doing that on a regular basis for quite a while now. It was another quality start, and there's been a bunch of them."
First baseman Josh Phelps, making his first start in three weeks in place of flu-ridden Adam LaRoche, enjoyed his best game as a Pirate, going 3 for 4 with a home run, a double and three RBI.
Maholm (six innings, three earned runs), who also beat Houston on July 21 to snap a seven-game Pirates' losing streak, gave another strong start as Gorzelanny battles shoulder stiffness and Snell is mired in a three-game, second-half skid.
The second-year pitcher stymied a Mets lineup that had averaged seven runs on 11 hits in lopsided victories over the Pirates' two more-heralded pitchers to win his third game in the past four starts.
It was only the second win in the Pirates' past 12 games and prevented a series sweep by the first-place Mets. The Pirates now head to Philadelphia for a three-game series against another NL East contender.
"I think the comfort level is out there, where I can just go and challenge hitters," Maholm said. "I hit my spots and get ahead and change speeds and not really have to give into them a whole lot."
Only two pitchers in baseball have more losses than Maholm, but his poor record is a reflection of inadequate run support (he is second-to-last in the National League at 3.43 runs per game) rather than his own doing. In his past six losses, the Pirates scored a total of 12 runs.
When the Mets took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a single, stolen base, groundout and a sacrifice fly, and Perez (9-7) started mowing down the Pirates batters, it looked like Maholm would be another tough-luck loser.
But the Pirates scored five unearned runs - thanks to a Perez throwing error - in the sixth to take a 5-1 lead. Maholm left after the sixth, and the Pirates added three more runs for an 8-2 lead.
"He kept the ball down and moved his pitches in and out," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He did all of the things conducive to pitching a good ballgame."
Maholm was a second-half pitcher last season, too, going 5-1 in his last 10 starts. Tracy expects a strong finish for Maholm, who was 4-11 at one point this year.
"He's got another 13-14 starts left," Tracy said. "Let's see where that takes him."
Maholm contributed at the plate in the pivotal sixth inning. Perez had retired 11 in a row entering the inning, but Nate McLouth, batting eighth for the first time this season, singled, and Maholm reached on a two-strike slug-bunt that lobbed over third baseman David Wright.
"Luck," Maholm said.
That's when Perez made his first mistake - and it didn't come on a pitch. Cesar Izturis rolled a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line and Perez fielded the ball and launched a hurried throw into right field. McLouth's run tied the score at 1-all.
After two quick outs, the Pirates looked poised to waste another opportunity with runners at second and third. But Nady lined a two-run single and Phelps followed with a two-run homer to left-center for a 5-1 lead.
Lastings Milledge homered in the bottom of the sixth for a 5-2 deficit, but the Pirates strung together five consecutive two-out hits - four singles and a double -- in the seventh inning to take a 8-2 lead.
"Early, (Perez) was throwing great," Maholm said. "We got a couple bloops and took advantage of it. It's one of those things where you just want to keep your team in the game."