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NYM@PIT: Maholm pitches seven scoreless innings

PITTSBURGH -- The praise has been slow to come Paul Maholm's way this season, a situation for which there really is no explanation.

There's been plenty of attention paid to Charlie Morton and his renaissance, lots given to Kevin Correia for his quick run to eight wins and even a good amount directed toward Jeff Karstens for the way he has seized Ross Ohlendorf's rotation spot. Yet too often lost in that shuffle has been Maholm, even though he has been as good as any of the three.

Arguably, he has actually been the most consistent.

The wins have been hard to come by for reasons other than Maholm's own efforts, but on Monday night the left-hander led the way to the Pirates' 3-1 win over the Mets at PNC Park. The victory gave Pittsburgh a series split with New York and sealed the club's first winning homestand of the season.

"He's been throwing the heck out of it, too," Brandon Wood said. "Our pitching staff has been phenomenal. If we start swinging the bats like we can, we'll be a threat out there. It's nice to put some runs on the board and get Paul that win."

Runs aren't something Maholm has had the luxury of receiving in bulk this season, which explains the deception of his 3-7 record. Runs haven't mattered much lately, though, as Maholm has not allowed one to an opponent in three of his last four starts.

Ironically enough, his only hiccup in that four-game stretch came against the Mets, who battered him around for seven runs (six earned) on June 2. Since then he has tossed 13 scoreless innings, including seven on Monday.

"You prepare for every fifth day, and nothing else really gets in the way," Maholm said. "When I get on the mound, my focus is to get the first guy of the inning out and get ground balls. That's how it's been going lately. Hopefully, I can stay in a groove."

He never was in much trouble against the Mets this time around. A pair of early walks proved innocuous, as did his own fielding error. The biggest threat came when the Mets strung together two singles with one out in the fifth.

During an at-bat in which Mets starter Mike Pelfrey struggled to lay down a bunt, new catcher Michael McKenry caught Daniel Murphy cheating toward third base. The second out of the inning was quickly followed by the third, as Maholm got Pelfrey to ground out.

"[Murphy] started leaning and put all his weight on one side, and I just chucked it down there," said McKenry, who was acquired from the Red Sox on Sunday night. "Luckily, that was a big part of the game."

McKenry deserves kudos for more than just that one throw. Despite not even recognizing Maholm when he arrived in Pittsburgh on Monday, McKenry seemed to work seamlessly with his batterymate.

"[McKenry] was great," Maholm said. "You see who is catching you, and you've never met the guy. You go introduce yourself, go over a game plan, and go out there and execute it. He was spot-on. I didn't have to shake him a whole lot."

Maholm allowed just one other baserunner, and completed seven innings for the sixth time this season. His ERA dropped to a season-low 3.12 with the three-hit effort.

"He was making quality pitches tonight," said Mets shortstop Jose Reyes. "We have to give him credit. He pitched a very good game. We got nothing going against him."

Maholm's most efficient inning was actually his last, which made manager Clint Hurdle's decision to pull him at 95 pitches debatable. Maholm, who needed just seven pitches to retire the side in the seventh, wanted to stay in, but Hurdle hoped that bringing in a hard-throwing right-hander would give the Mets some problems.

But the strategy flopped. Jose Veras issued an eighth-inning leadoff walk, which was followed by a single. Hurdle then turned to Tim Wood, who benefited from a sliding catch by Jose Tabata on Reyes' sinking liner to left. Though Ruben Tejada tagged up and scored from third, the Pirates were able to complete a double play to quell a bigger threat.

"It was a very important play for Maholm, because he pitched very well today," Tabata said. "Everybody did a good job today against a good team."

Wood got out of the inning and, as he has all season, closer Joel Hanrahan breezed through the ninth to record save No. 17.

The Pirates scored two of their three runs off Pelfrey, who didn't have to contend with Andrew McCutchen. An early obstruction call worked in the Pirates' favor and led to the first tally on the scoreboard.

Tabata, who led off the game with a single, tried to move to third on a single by Xavier Paul. He was initially called out by third-base umpire Bob Davidson, but the ruling was rendered moot when Reyes was charged with obstruction after getting in Tabata's way between second and third.

Tabata returned to third and, on the next pitch, scored when Neil Walker lined a single to center.

"I didn't think the umpire saw anything," Tabata said, "but after that [call was made], I said, 'OK, he [saw] it.'"

Brandon Wood padded the lead with a homer to lead off the fifth, and the final run scored on a bases-loaded walk to Walker in the eighth.

Though the Pirates scored just 10 runs in the final six games of this homestand, behind their pitching, they won three of those contests to move back within a game of .500.

"I like the way we're playing baseball right now," Hurdle said. "We're pitching. We're playing defense. We're scratching out at-bats."

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