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PIT@CHC: Maholm shuts out the Cubs on three hits

CHICAGO -- As Paul Maholm watched the fourth inning unfold from his seat in the dugout, one thought superseded all others: Don't screw up.

Those were Maholm's words after the Pirates' 10-0 win over the Cubs on Saturday, and it was obvious by that final score that Maholm didn't. Turning an overcast day at Wrigley Field into the setting for one of the most dominant performances of his career, Maholm finally got the run support that the offense has owed him for almost two months now.

The club matched its largest output of the season by putting up 10 runs against a Chicago team that has lost four of five to Pittsburgh this year. That came after the Pirates had scored only 13 runs combined in Maholm's first 10 starts.

"If we knew he was going to throw a shutout, we could have saved some of these runs for tomorrow," joked third baseman Steve Pearce, who drove in the first two runs with a fourth-inning single. "He's pitched his butt off all year. Today was no different. Every time he's on the hill, he gives us a chance to win."

The problem is that in nine of the first 10 games Maholm started, the Pirates didn't win. Saturday's shutout -- the third of his career -- gave Maholm his first win since April 25. This, despite the fact that he had given up only 12 earned runs in his five starts since then.

His record -- which now sits at 2-7 -- is entirely deceiving, as it does nothing to reflect what a steady and reliable presence Maholm has been in the rotation all year.

"I'm sure it's been frustrating, but he hasn't let it show," catcher Chris Snyder said. "He goes about his business. He's a professional. What he did today was nothing different than what he's been doing all year, except for the run support he got."

Maholm needed only 91 pitches to finish nine innings and allowed just three baserunners. He retired the first 13 hitters of the game, allowed two consecutive hits in the fifth and then set down 14 of the last 15 that came to the plate. The only blip during that span was a two-out infield hit in the ninth.

The only thing he was disappointed with afterward was that he let his pitch count creep above 90 in that final inning.

"His pitch count was phenomenal," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "After the five-run fourth, he went right after guys and there was no messing around. Run support is a wonderful thing. He threw well."

Maholm has now pitched 15 2/3 scoreless innings against the Cubs this year and is 8-2 against Chicago in his career. Asked about that success, Maholm put little significance on the venue or opponent. But as everyone knows, Wrigley Field is not always a safe haven for pitchers, and Maholm's dominance was made even more impressive by the fact that the wind was blowing out for much of the afternoon.

"I was just going out there trying to attack hitters, get ahead, keep the ball down," Maholm said. "I think the main thing is that no matter where you pitch, if you execute your pitches and mix speeds, it makes it a lot easier. You don't have to come over the plate to some of those guys."

Maholm, who still leads the league in losses, has a long way to go to inch his way back toward .500. But his ability to ride out this adversity would seem to have him set up to only further continue what he's been doing. Not once did he complain about the lack of run support. Not once did he put the blame on anyone but himself.

"Regardless of run support, he has been not just efficient, but his confidence has not wavered," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think that is sending the biggest statement out there in the clubhouse right now -- watching this guy deal with what he's dealing with and it's all pro."

The Pirates supported Maholm with four home runs on Saturday, marking the first time since July 22, 2009, that the team has hit four homers in a nine-inning game. Ronny Cedeno's came first and capped a five-run fourth inning off Cubs starter Randy Wells.

The inning started with consecutive hits by Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, who has hit safely in each of his 14 career games against Chicago. Pearce drove home both with a two-run single, though he left the game right after with soreness in his right calf. He is listed as day to day. Cedeno followed a walk to Snyder with a blast to right-center that made it just over the ivy-covered walls.

The Pirates' next four runs all came via the long ball. Lyle Overbay and Snyder each had solo blasts in the sixth. McCutchen connected for a two-run homer in the seventh. Back-to-back doubles by Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones in the ninth plated the last run.

"Yesterday, we had to grind a little bit," Snyder said. "Today, it was a little different story. We got on them and stayed on them."

Each starting position player finished with at least one hit, and Jones was the only one who didn't score. The breakout day for the offense ensured the Pirates of another road series win, too. Now with seven of them, Pittsburgh has matched the total number of road series it won in 2009 (three) and 2010 (four).

"Our guys have been looking forward to having a game like this for a while," said Hurdle, whose team has won four straight on the road for the first time since 2008. "The success they had today is something they can hold on to. They know they're capable of doing some things that we haven't done with much consistency so far."

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