Using a clutch hit from Jose Tabata and a terrific start by Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh ended an exasperating streak of 17 consecutive losses away from PNC Park on Monday night, once again using the Cubs as a cure with a 2-1 win in front of 38,512 at Wrigley Field.
No longer do the Pirates have to worry about inching closer to the 1985 club's ignominious streak of 19 straight road losses, the longest such streak by any Major League club in the past 40 years. Sure, Pittsburgh still has a dismal 5-19 June record to tote around. But the club can also -- at least for 24 hours -- enjoy this road win.
Is there relief in that?
"You think?" manager John Russell said, when posed the question. He smiled and then continued: "It was a game we desperately needed. A lot of guys really stepped up tonight."
No bigger boost was there than the ones provided by Maholm and Tabata. Coming off the worst start of his career, Maholm gave Pittsburgh its first eight-inning outing by any starting pitcher this season and allowed only one run during the 101-pitch night.
Relying heavily on what catcher Ryan Doumit described as Maholm's most consistent sinker this season, the left-hander threw a first-pitch strike to 21 of the 31 Chicago hitters he faced. And after allowing four walks in a one-inning outing last Wednesday, Maholm didn't issue a single free pass in eight frames.
"The last one I put behind me the next day and got prepared for these guys," Maholm said. "I don't expect to have very many of those one-inning outings. I came out tonight and everything worked. It can't get a whole lot better."
The Cubs scratched for a run in the second when a collision between outfielder Lastings Milledge and second baseman Bobby Crosby resulted in a key double. Aramis Ramirez then scored from third when Pedro Alvarez made an errant throw after fielding a ground ball trying to beat him home.
Maholm's only other trouble came in the seventh, when consecutive one-out hits put runners on the corners. He responded by inducing a first-pitch, inning-ending double play to erase that threat.
"That was huge," Maholm said. "And I think that was a big momentum shift to us."
Maholm finished off the night with a 1-2-3 eighth to put himself in position to give the Pirates' starting pitchers just their third cumulative win since May 18. Maholm, now 5-6, has two of those victories.
"Everything was working for him," Russell said. "In a game like that, he knew he had to be pretty clean, because we didn't have much opportunity to score."
Pittsburgh and Chicago had traded runs early, but by the time the ninth rolled around, a 1-1 tie was still intact. Facing Cubs reliever Andrew Cashner, Doumit snapped an 0-for-11 skid with a leadoff single. Pinch-hitter Ryan Church later followed with a one-out walk.
That brought up Tabata, who had already scored the Pirates' first run, and Cubs manager Lou Piniella went straight to closer Carlos Marmol to face the rookie outfielder. Tabata worked the count to 1-1 and then drilled a 95-mph fastball into deep center.
"The fastball he throws is good," Tabata said. As soon as I see the ball, I hit the ball."
The ball kept drifting, over the head of center fielder Tyler Colvin and dropping near the wall. It was an easy double for Tabata, though the only question was whether Doumit could score from second.
"I wasn't sure whether to tag up there or not," Doumit said. "With the wind swirling in Chicago here, you never know what's going on. I kind of got caught in the middle."
When he saw the ball drop, Doumit took off. He arrived at the plate a bit awkwardly, hesitating about whether to slide. He didn't, but his foot touched home just before Cubs catcher Geovany Soto applied the tag.
"As I was rounding third, I saw Soto kind of gearing up like he might be catching the ball, so I wasn't sure what I was going to do," Doumit said. "Fortunately, I got there first."
"I'm very, very happy," Tabata said afterward. "I'm very excited."
Pittsburgh stranded two runners in scoring position to end the inning, but Octavio Dotel's 15th save of the season made that inconsequential. For Tabata, the RBI was his fourth since being called up to the Majors. It was his first game-winning hit.
"I'm real excited for Jose Tabata -- great hit off a premier close," Russell said. "Big smile on his face. It was really a lot of fun."
"That's what we've been missing," Maholm said of the clutch hit. "Hopefully, guys can relax now."
They can certainly relax knowing that the door on another losing streak has been shut. Furthermore, Pittsburgh has had no issue handling the Cubs this season, and this win has the club enjoying an 8-2 season-series lead with two games remaining in this week's series.
Of the 10 games played between these two National League Central clubs, six have been decided by one run.
"They've got some good players over there, guys who are tough outs," Cubs starter Randy Wells said. "I think they're kind of in the same boat we are. It comes down to who executes more, and right now, they've executed more against us."
Chicago didn't help its own cause on Monday, giving the Pirates a gift in the third that helped Pittsburgh tie the game up. Colvin's misread of Andrew McCutchen's deep line drive to right field resulted in an RBI triple.
But for a Pirates team that had won just twice in its previous 20 games, it didn't matter how the runs came, as long as enough did.
"We've been on a little bit of a roll against these guys, especially at this field," Doumit said. "It's been a long road trip so far, so to get off the schneid feels good."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.