04/17/06 11:30 PM ET
Bucs' Maholm outdueled against Cards
Pirates manage only one run against Marquis
By David Briggs / MLB.com
There is just one pitch he would like to have back in a 2-1 loss on Monday night: a first-inning fastball over the plate to one of baseball's hottest hitters. Albert Pujols, who had already hit three homers in his last three at-bats, drilled the mistake pitch like a bullet over the center-field wall, where it bounced off a second wall and nestled in the hedge spelling out the team's name.
"I'm not going to back down from anyone," Maholm said. "He's hot right now and that's what hot guys do."
The two-run shot was all the Cardinals needed on a night where Jason Marquis, winless in four starts against Pittsburgh last year, pitched a gem of his own to down the Bucs before 15,278 at PNC Park.
After a season-long trend of Pirates starters struggling early before their bats slugged them back into the game, Monday's story was the season's antithesis.
Often working out of trouble, Maholm limited the Redbirds to just two runs in six innings -- a notable triumph for baseball's worst starting rotation in terms of staff ERA. And though the left-hander threw 118 pitches and stranded eight runners on base, it was a welcome sight for their depleted bullpen. It was, after all, only the third quality start in the Bucs' first 15 games.
"Paul Maholm did a very fine job," said Pirates manager Jim Tracy. "He displayed the characteristics that are necessary to be a very consistent starter at this level. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw a lot of it this in 2006."
But on this night where the Pirates got an uncharacteristically good outing from their starter, the Pirates bats were virtually silenced. Consistently beating Marquis' throws into the dirt, the Bucs managed just one hit before the eighth inning -- a Chris Duffy infield single in the third inning.
"The guy was dominating today," said Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson. "It's one of those things where you face some pitchers that just have great stuff that day."
Relying primarily on his fastball, Tracy said it was simply a matter of Marquis effectively spotting his pitches.
"That's the quietest offensive game we've had so far, and a lot of that had to do with [Marquis'] capability of pitching both sides of the plate as well as he did," Tracy said. "[That was] evidenced by some of the weak ground balls we hit, evidenced by the three of four times I saw the barrel of the bat flying toward the middle of the infield. It's totally obvious that the guy was doing a great job of pitching tonight."
Still, the Pirates never let the game slip away. After cutting their deficit to one in the eighth inning, Pittsburgh looked primed to send the game into extra frames. Wilson led off the ninth with a double and the Pirates had their three, four and five hitters coming up.
It was not to be. Jason Bay and Jeromy Burnitz struck out before a Craig Wilson grounder to second ended the game.
"[Isringhausen] went out and shut the door," Craig Wilson said. "You just have to tip your cap when it comes down to pitching like that."
"That's what [the game] boiled down to," said Tracy.
Or maybe it went back to that first-inning mistake to Pujols. Before the game, Tracy jokingly asked if they have rubber chickens in St. Louis. He was referencing the toys fans in San Francisco wave at opposing pitchers fearful of throwing to Barry Bonds. That's how much the skipper thinks of the man he called "as complete a player" as there is in the game.
Entering the game, Pujols had homered in three consecutive at-bats. With his fourth straight blast, he tied a Major League record accomplished 34 times before. After Pujols doubled in his ensuing at-bat, Maholm finally gave him a free pass.
Take notice, Oliver Perez. It's your turn Tuesday.
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.