Bucs treasure early lead, hold on for victory

Bucs treasure early lead, hold on for victory

CHICAGO -- When Octavio Dotel signed with the Pirates in January, he vowed to make things interesting.

At the time, the 36-year-old closer was speaking more to the spicing-up effect he'd have in the clubhouse. Turns out, Dotel has held true to that same promise on the field, too.

Yet again, Dotel somehow worked his way out of another precarious ninth-inning situation, in turn leading the Pirates to a 4-3 win in front of 41,336 fans at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

"I wasn't watching," said starter Paul Maholm, whose third win of the season depended on Dotel's ability to make a two-run lead stick. "I had my head down. I just kind of listened. He likes to make it interesting. He's kind of an interesting guy."

Dotel is no stranger to drama either, having already had his fair share of it as the Pirates' closer this season. But really, a run-of-the-mill save just wouldn't quite fit for the bubbly, eccentric veteran.

"It's kind of nice because everybody gets a little excited after I get the last out," Dotel said, not entirely serious, of course. "Like, I have you [media] guys now for that reason. If I get the guys 1-2-3, you might not come talk to me. I make it exciting."

With the Pirates in risk of losing the handle on a seventh straight win over the Cubs, Dotel locked in when he had to on Saturday. The inning had started innocuously enough with Mike Fontenot grounding out. Dotel walked Starlin Castro, but then jumped ahead, 0-2, against outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.

He threw two curveballs out of the zone, kicking himself for that pitch selection afterward. Then with the count full, Dotel served up an RBI triple that brought the Cubs to within one. Not only that, but Chicago now had two outs to play with and the tying run 90 feet away.

Still, Dotel never blinked.

"In my head was, 'You cannot let that run come in to home plate,'" Dotel said. "'If that guy is going to score, they're going to hit my best.'"

That, of course, would mean hitting his fastball. Dotel got Ryan Theriot to swing through a 94-mph one for the second out of the inning. Marlon Byrd then couldn't catch up to a 93-mph offering as he went down swinging to end the game.

"[That's] Dotel being Dotel," Byrd said afterward. "He's a veteran and knows what to do in those situations. So tip your hat to him, and I slap myself in the face for not even putting it in play."

"He doesn't panic and just keeps throwing the ball," manager John Russell said. "He doesn't get wrapped up in the moment. That's why he's a closer. He's got a great personality for it."

The save was Dotel's seventh in nine opportunities this season. It also sealed the Pirates' fifth win over the Cubs in the past 12 days.

"He's as cool as they come out there," Jeff Clement said. "For him to just start throwing fastballs by them, that's impressive."

It was Clement who Dotel had to thank for the extra run to work with. The first baseman connected for his second hit of the day -- a solo homer off Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol -- just minutes before Dotel was summoned. It turned out to be the game-winner.

"It's good to contribute to a really big win for us," said Clement, who continues to battle through modifications with his swing. "I'm always putting a lot of work into my swing and what I do. Regardless, it's good to come through and produce in a close ballgame."

The run was the first since Pittsburgh scored three times off Chicago starter Ryan Dempster in the opening inning. Dempster's control wasn't stellar all afternoon, and he opened his outing by throwing eight of his first 10 pitches out of the zone.

Those leadoff walks were followed by Andrew McCutchen's single, which drove home one and gave him his sixth straight hit. Ryan Church, whose bruised right wrist had finally healed enough for the outfielder to make his first start since May 7, then delivered a key two-run double.

"That was huge," said Russell, whose team has scored in the first inning in all five games against Chicago this season. "Dempster, we knew was going to be tough."

And from there on out, he was. Dempster struck out nine over seven innings and limited the Pirates to just one other hit. But on the other end, Maholm made that early advantage stand.

Coming off his worst start of the season, Maholm (3-3) had only one notable hiccup in his six-inning start. That came in the third when, with two on and two out, the left-hander offered up a two-strike pitch over the plate that third baseman Aramis Ramirez drove into the gap in left-center. Both runners scored.

"It was supposed to be in, and I flew open and the ball flew right over the plate," Maholm said. "I wasn't a happy camper."

Church then helped bail Maholm out of any further damage when he gunned down Ramirez trying to score on catcher Geovany Soto's single to left.

Maholm limited the Cubs to just two other baserunners in his final three innings and found the mechanical adjustment that he made during the week -- eliminating some of the movement with his hands -- to be an effective one. For the first time this season, the lefty didn't issue a walk.

"The wind was blowing in so it was kind of, 'Let them hit the ball and let the guys work,'" Maholm said.

After going 24-52 against National League Central teams last year, the Pirates moved to 11-12 against division foes this year. They also have the chance to complete their third sweep of the season -- that would match their total number of sweeps from 2009 -- with a victory on Sunday.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.