Paul Maholm nearly finishes Cubs’ shutout of Astros
BY TONI GINNETTI Sun-Times Media June 29, 2012 11:28PM
Paul Maholm allowed two singles in eight innings before running into trouble in the ninth. He won for the first time since May 9. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times
Updated: August 1, 2012 6:19AM
CHICAGO — Small triumphs will count as big ones for the Cubs in this season of transition.
There were several in the team’s 4-0 victory Friday against the Houston Astros, which came on the heels of the Cubs’ worst loss of the season.
‘‘I think the day off (Thursday) helped, and we could forget about Wednesday (a 17-1 loss),’’ said Alfonso Soriano, who hit his 15th home run in the sixth inning. ‘‘And Maholm pitched a very good game.’’
Paul Maholm (5-6) marked the most significant triumph in his 200th career start. The left-hander went 81/3 innings, allowing only two singles before the ninth.
Brian Bixler’s one-out single and Carlos Lee’s double ended Maholm’s hopes for a complete game. Carlos Marmol earned his sixth save, but not before hitting a batter to bring the tying run to the plate.
‘‘After the last outing, I’ll take it,’’ a smiling Maholm said, remembering his last start in Arizona last Saturday, when he went only 31/3 innings in a 10-5 loss.
‘‘In Arizona, I didn’t make some pitches, and I wasn’t able to get out of jams that I created,’’ he said. ‘‘Today, it was being aggressive early. Guys made plays behind me, and three home runs always help.’’
The other two came from third baseman Luis Valbuena, who continues to make up for the loss of Ian Stewart (wrist injury), and catcher Steve Clevenger, who hit his first career homer in the fourth with Bryan LaHair on base.
‘‘It’s a dream come true to hit a homer in the big leagues, but more important is we got the win and the shutout,’’ said Clevenger.
Sveum is counting Clevenger’s development behind the plate in his book of triumphs.
‘‘It’s the way he calls a game as much as anything,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘He’s left-handed and puts the bat on the ball, but he seems to catch a lot of gems for us.’’
Maholm praised Clevenger, as well.
‘‘Clevenger is a young guy who is getting his feet wet and getting confidence in a big-league game,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s getting to understand how I pitch. That’s always big for young guys, to be on the same page as a starter.’’
Maholm hadn’t won since May 9, a span of eight starts, with four no-decisions and four losses.
‘‘There were four or so that I left tied or with the lead,’’ he said. ‘‘You don’t want to say you did your job if the team doesn’t win, but it’s much more gratifying to play well and win.”
There is an irony to Maholm’s success, one that hangs over several Cubs as management weighs whether an improving player has more value as trade bait. Starting pitching is the most valued commodity in baseball, and a successful left-hander is a tantalizing prize.
‘‘I’ve dealt with that stuff for three years,’’ Maholm said of trade rumors. ‘‘[Ryan] Dempster and [Matt] Garza and Sori — it’s part of it. All you can do is be prepared to do your job. I’ve enjoyed it here and love pitching in this park. But all I can do is be prepared for my next start in Atlanta [next week].’’