Maholm unable to notch 10th win
Staff goes with out double-digit winner for first time since 1890
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers continue to be on a mission that not even staff ace Paul Maholm could interrupt on Wednesday night.
Maholm's attempt at being the lone pitcher in the rotation to reach the 10-win plateau was thwarted by a playoff-hungry Milwaukee club that moved into a tie atop the Wild Card standings with a 4-2 win over the Pirates in front of 31,164 fans at Miller Park.
On the other side, the loss handed the Pirates all sorts of unfavorable distinctions. It marked the 14th consecutive defeat for the club at Miller Park, a stretch of games dating back to May 3, 2007. The loss also sunk Pittsburgh to 1-13 against the Brewers this season.
But maybe the most jarring distinction is this: for a team that came into the season lauding its starting pitching potential, the 2008 Pirates will be the first Pittsburgh club not to flaunt at least one 10-game winner in a non-strike shortened season since 1890.
It was 118 years ago, playing for the Pittsburg Alleghenys, that pitcher Billy Gumbert led the staff with four wins. The Alleghenys went 23-113 that season.
Regardless of the result, Maholm's breakout season shouldn't be entirely spoiled by the loss it ended with. A year in which the left-hander was the only pitcher to show consistency in the rotation, Maholm emerged as the distinguished staff ace.
At one point, he put together a string of 20 consecutive starts where he pitched through at least the sixth. He finished at least eight innings on eight different occasions. His 206 1/3 innings shattered his previous career high of 177 2/3.
"He's done a great job all year," manager John Russell said. "I thought he pitched well tonight. It's unfortunate that he had that one inning where he kind of stumbled."
"That inning" was the fourth, and it was one that was uncharacteristic of how the season has unfolded for Maholm.
While not a season-long trend by any means, Maholm would be plagued by walks in his second attempt at reaching that double-digit win mark. After walking six in his last start, Maholm matched that total in his six innings on Wednesday.
Four of those came in the fourth.
"I beat myself," he said, afterward. "I let the team down. To give up only two singles and four runs is pretty pathetic on my part."
After facing the minimum in the first three innings, Maholm looked to be cruising as he took a 1-0 lead into the inning. Two singles and one walk later, Maholm had lost that lead. Maholm then walked three of the next four hitters, including two with the bases loaded, to put the Brewers ahead, 3-1.
Maholm lost second baseman Rickie Weeks after getting in front of him 1-2. The subsequent walk to Jason Kendall then came on five pitches.
"I lost my rhythm and I just never found it," Maholm explained. "I don't know. I felt good. For some reason I was missing with absolutely every pitch."
The silver lining -- and maybe, in an odd sort of way, a microcosm of Maholm's transition to staff ace this season -- is the response the left-hander gave both after that second walk and when he came back out to the mound in the fifth.
He induced an inning-ending, bases-loaded popup in the fourth. And then in the fifth: seven pitches and a 1-2-3 inning.
"There's nothing that he should be upset about," Russell said of Maholm's performance. "I know he wanted to pitch better. What he's done all year, and the way that he came back and competed after that inning, is a good indication of what kind of pitcher he is."
While Russell was quick to identify the positives of Maholm's season, the left-hander had a slightly tougher time. Asked to evaluate the season as a whole, Maholm, who has taken to heart the challenge that an acceptable performance is only one in which the team wins, had a hard time distancing himself from this outing.
"Over the whole year, I think I've come into the games ready to go, not giving up the big innings," he said. "But right now it's disappointing. I reached a couple goals, but the main goal is for the team to win and that's something for the offseason and hopefully everybody goes and works hard and comes back ready to win."
The Brewers tacked on an inconsequential fourth run two innings later when Adam LaRoche was unable to backhand a sharply hit ground ball by first baseman Prince Fielder. Fielder took second as the ball rolled into right field and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly.
Maholm finished 0-3 with a 4.55 ERA in five starts this season against the Brewers.
For the second time in those five starts, Maholm also had the unenviable distinction of matching up against Brewers ace CC Sabathia, who needed just three days' rest to stop the Pirates in his third start against them in the past 31 days.
Although the Pirates have no 10-game winners this season, Sabathia picked up his 10th win with the Brewers, who didn't acquire him until July 7.
The Pirates came away empty from a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity in the first and threatened Sabathia only minimally afterward. Jason Michaels' two-out RBI single in the third marked the team's only run against Sabathia.
All combined in three games against Sabathia, the Pirates scored just two runs and connected for only 13 hits in 22 innings pitched.
Adam LaRoche took Milwaukee closer Salomon Torres deep with a solo homer, his 24th home run of the year, in the ninth to account for the team's other run of the night.
The Pirates final chance to pick up a win in Miller Park this season comes on Thursday, as the Pirates play their final game vs. an NL Central opponent of the season.
"Unfortunately, we faced a pitcher that's pretty good [on Wednesday]," Russell said. "We haven't fared well here, it's obvious. But guys have stayed pretty upbeat. We'll finish strong."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.