Maholm tosses gem to end slide
Southpaw allows one run, three hits in seven innings
PITTSBURGH -- It didn't take long for Pirates pitching coach Jim Colborn to notice something wasn't right with Paul Maholm on Friday night.
The lefty was aiming his pitches, trying to push them to where he wanted rather than rely on his aggressiveness to translate into pitch location.
"After the first few batters, I didn't know how long I was going to be in there," Maholm said. "The stuff wasn't going where I wanted it to."
That's when Colborn walked to the mound after only three hitters had come to the plate, took 30 seconds with his starter and left Maholm out there to battle.
From there, Maholm turned what appeared to be shaping into another ominous outing into one of his strongest starts of the year, as he led Pittsburgh to a 4-1 over the White Sox in front of 26,647 at PNC Park.
"For some reason, it clicked, and I went from there," Maholm said.
Thankfully for the Pirates, what they saw from Maholm during the first frame was not a reflection of what was to come. He started the game by throwing as many balls (16) as he did strikes, but after limiting the White Sox to only one first-inning run, Maholm blanked Chicago from that point forward.
"It was one of those things where I just said I've got to figure it out and throw as long as I can," said Maholm, who admitted he never expected to last seven innings after the way the first had transpired. "I was happy when I came off after the first and only gave up one. I told myself when I got in the dugout that's all they were getting."
That's all Chicago got, at least from Maholm. With his sinker staying down and his curveball keeping hitters off balance, Maholm cruised through his final six innings of work on his way to earning his first win since May 10.
The win also snapped a five-game home losing streak for the lefty, but maybe more importantly, Maholm's ability to escape the first with minimal damage gave him a much-needed boost of confidence.
"We've seen him be like that early in the game and have an inning get away from him," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "After he got beyond the first inning, he was in control. When he gets out there and get in a groove and gets pitches over the plate early in the count, he becomes very good."
It was a combination of a very good Maholm with a struggling White Sox offense. Chicago entered the game with a .232 batting average and as losers of eight of its previous nine games.
The White Sox were singing the same frustrating song after another loss, one in which they recorded only four hits.
"If you throw strikes against us, you're going to beat us [with] the way we're playing lately," said former Pirates utility man Rob Mackowiak. "[Maholm] kept our batters off balance. The way we've been hitting lately, it doesn't matter who's on the mound."
However, it almost mattered in the ninth, when the usually reliable Matt Capps had trouble pinpointing his pitches
"I was having a hard time grabbing hold of the ball," said Capps. "It was slick today, which it's usually not."
But when White Sox left fielder Andy Gonzalez popped up Capps' 29th pitch of the night to shortstop Jack Wilson, the Pirates could celebrate their third victory in their last four games. The save was the fourth on the season for the Pirates closer.
Though they fell into the early one-run deficit, the Pirates had no trouble getting to White Sox starter Jon Garland. Xavier Nady found the right-center-field gap in the first to drive in two and put the Pirates out in front.
From there, Wilson and Jose Bautista teamed up to give Pittsburgh two more insurance runs. In the second and fourth innings, Wilson scored on RBI singles from Jose Bautista.
"They've been in scoring position for me and I've obviously been getting some hits," said Bautista, who has eight hits and seven RBIs in his last 16 at-bats. "I'm just trying to put the ball in play and I've found some holes lately."
For Wilson, he took the field looking as if he were playing to prove something on Friday after having been benched the previous four games.
As Wilson trotted back to the dugout after scoring the third run of the game for the Pirates, Tracy hopped off the dugout bench, leaned over the dugout railing and put out his hand.
He wanted to make sure to be the first one to shake his hand.
"Jack Wilson played a tremendous game for us at shortstop, it goes without saying," Tracy said afterward.
There had been a little tension between the two earlier in the week when Wilson didn't feel satisfied with the explanation he was hearing as to why he lost his starting spot. But with Freddy Sanchez ill on Friday, Wilson returned to the lineup and made the most of it.
Wilson had two hits on the night, scored twice and made a highlight-reel play in the eighth, going to his right and making an accurate, off-balance throw from the outfield grass to beat Gonzalez by a step.
As for whether Wilson's feisty performance earned him a spot in Saturday's lineup?
"We'll find out [Saturday]," Tracy said.
The Pirates lost center fielder Chris Duffy during the fifth with a right hamstring strain. Tracy said Duffy will be evaluated [Saturday], though he doesn't expect the injury to be serious.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.