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Maholm manhandles Astros for series win

Maholm manhandles Astros for series win

PITTSBURGH -- Ten days after watching Roy Oswalt roll through the Pirates' offense with hardly any issue, Paul Maholm showed that he, too, can be just as dominant.

In his best performance of the season, Maholm allowed only three hits -- all singles -- in a complete-game shutout that complemented another huge day from the offense. All combined, it gave the Pirates a 9-0 victory over the Astros in front of 16,638 at PNC Park on Sunday.

Outdueling Oswalt was plenty rewarding for Maholm, who lost a head-to-head matchup against the Astros' ace in April. But being able to start the second half on this type of note is what the left-hander hopes will last much longer.

Maholm entered Sunday on the heels of a rocky month-long stretch that included some of the worst games of his career. Now, those are overshadowed by one of his best.

"When you put up runs like that, it makes it a lot easier to go out there and be aggressive," said Maholm, still wiping off shaving cream after being pied in the face for the first time since his rookie season. "I tried not to throw too many of the same pitch in a row. I think that's the biggest thing."

Prior to Sunday, the Pirates were just one of two teams not to have a pitcher toss a complete game. In fact, they hadn't had a pitcher even take the mound in the ninth before Maholm went the distance for the fourth time in his career. All four have been at PNC Park.

"It's been 2 1/2 years since I've had one," Maholm said. "So with that pitch count, I would have stayed out there for 130 to finish it off."

As it turned out, he needed only 103 in a spectacular show of efficiency that notched the second shutout of Maholm's now 146-start career. He faced only two batters over the minimum.

"He was mixing his pitches pretty well, that's for sure, and we thought pitches were going to be in locations when we started our swing, and all of a sudden, it wasn't," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "He kept the ball off the barrel of the bat almost all day long."

There were no walks issued, and no Houston player reached second base. Furthermore, Maholm's outing provided the Pirates' bullpen, which logged 7 2/3 innings in Saturday's win, a much-needed breather.

"The bullpen probably owes him dinner," manager John Russell joked. "To push the reset button is big for us."

As impressive as Maholm was in securing the Pirates' third straight home series win, the offense's performance was equally remarkable. One day after setting a season high with 17 hits, the Pirates banged out 19 against Astros pitching in this one.

And remember, this was a game started by a pitcher who had allowed just one hit against the Pirates less than two weeks ago.

"It lets the guys know what they're capable of doing," Russell said of his team's two-day, 36-hit total. "Get that feeling that when we're aggressive, we can do some damage. It's a good building block for these young guys to get the feeling that we can score runs."

The 19 hits -- which included four by suddenly-rejuvenated shortstop Ronny Cedeno -- were the most by Pittsburgh since the team collected that many in a June 2008 win over the Yankees. The seven doubles -- three of which belonged to Cedeno -- were the most since an '03 game in Tampa Bay.

It had been a little more than four years since the Pirates last banged out at least 17 hits in back-to-back games.

"We're playing really good," said Cedeno, who now has at least one extra-base hit in five of his last six games. "We've got to keep going. I think we'll be OK. We have a very good team. We have to get better and better."

The offense's only 1-2-3 inning was the first, as Oswalt began the afternoon dealing. He recorded the first out in the second before being struck on the left ankle by Pedro Alvarez's line drive. Alvarez reached safely, and Oswalt was never the same after.

Pittsburgh scored twice in that inning on RBI hits by Ryan Doumit and Lastings Milledge. Oswalt remained in the game through the fourth before succumbing to his ankle, which had continued swelling.

"I couldn't really finish pitches, couldn't really get through pitches and left two balls kind of spinning in the plate, and got a few hits," Oswalt said. "I was hoping that I could get to the sixth, but it got to the point I started cutting my mechanics off and I didn't want to hurt myself trying to throw a different way."

Upon Oswalt's exit, Pittsburgh took immediate advantage, scoring seven times on 12 hits. Among those included a two-run blast by Garrett Jones in the fifth. The home run was the first a Pirates player has hit with a runner on base since June 8, ending a streak of 1,097 at-bats without a multi-run homer.

That was the longest such streak since 1984, when the Astros had 1,252 at-bats in between multi-run shots.

"Wow," said Jones after being reminded how long it had been. "You can still score runs without hitting home runs. We drive the ball pretty well in the gap and move guys over. I think that's our game. The home runs will come every now and then."

For the second game in a row, every position player finished with at least one hit. In fact, Jones, who also walked once, was the only one not to collect at least two.

The only damper on the afternoon came in the eighth, when Andrew McCutchen left the game with what was later diagnosed as a mild sprain of the AC joint in his shoulder. McCutchen suffered the injury making a diving catch.

X-rays came back negative, and McCutchen will be reevaluated on Monday.

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

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