It had been eight years since the Pirates had been able to get that elusive eighth win in Interleague competition, a total that would guarantee the team an above-.500 record against the AL. But they reached it on Saturday to give the club its second winning mark in Interleague Play since its 1997 inception.
"It means a lot for us this year," Adam LaRoche said. "As far as this year and trying to stay in the hunt, obviously, these games have meant as much as anything."
While the moderate summer success against the five AL Central teams has been encouraging, it was starter Paul Maholm's outing on Saturday that was especially refreshing.
Finishing off a month in which his results have been well below his expectations, Maholm snapped a personal two-game losing streak with a seven-inning effort that had all the expected characteristic of a Maholm start -- efficiency, plenty of ground balls and a sinker working like it's designed to.
"It was a big confidence boost early on, having my sinker and knowing it was down and away, getting a good bit of ground balls," said Maholm, who had been 1-2 with a 6.38 ERA in June, often unable to rely on that sinking fastball. "For the last few starts, I've had ground balls, but they've been hard ground balls."
In fact, Maholm had just one win in his last 11 starts, a span in which his results were down across the board. That called for a lengthier-than-normal side session after his start on Sunday, during which he rediscovered his sinker.
"[I was] just throwing it over and over and getting my rhythm," he said. "[I was] making sure my mechanics were consistent and the arm angle was consistent."
After combining to give up 22 hits and 13 runs in his last 10 innings (two starts), Maholm limited Kansas City's production to two early runs. Singles by Royals first baseman Billy Butler staked the Royals to an early 2-0 lead that lasted until the fourth inning.
While Pittsburgh would scratch across three runs late, it was the three runs that Delwyn Young knocked in off Royals starter Bruce Chen back in that fourth that ended up making the difference.
Though the offensive resurgence by Brandon Moss has regained him the majority of the starts in right field, Russell went with Young in right on Saturday as the skipper often has against left-handed starters. And with the way Young continues to produce, it'd be hard to argue against Young's inclusion.
"We've mixed and matched out there a little bit, but the guys have been producing," Russell said. "It's a good problem to have. It gives us options out there."
After consecutive one-out singles by Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche in the fourth, Young deposited Chen's 1-1 changeup over the center-field wall.
"I was looking for a fastball, and he just threw a changeup that sat there and I was able to get good wood on it, and it was able to go," he said. "I didn't think it was going to leave, but it did.
The home run, Young's second of the season, erased Kansas City's two-run lead and put Pittsburgh in front where it would stay.
"With DY's homer, you could just kind of see the momentum went our way," said Maholm.
Young would later add an eighth-inning RBI single to further pad the Pirates' lead, giving the outfielder a career-high four RBIs. In his last 11 starts, Young is hitting at a .415 clip with two homers, seven RBIs and six runs scored.
"Delwyn had a great night tonight, and he's been playing well for us," Russell said. "It's nice to have that. He continues to do very well."
That home run proved key as Chen, who had been called up from Triple-A Omaha to make the spot start, matched Maholm fairly equally for the rest of the night. In his first Major League appearance in 26 months, Chen allowed four other hits before being removed with one out in the seventh.
The Pirates' final hit off the lefty -- Andy LaRoche's triple in the seventh -- loomed largely, though. LaRoche would come around to score on a two-out single by shortstop Jack Wilson, who has quietly hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games, to move the lead to 4-2.
But even that insurance run, and the two that Pittsburgh would tack on with Young's single and Adam LaRoche's double in the eighth, wouldn't be needed on a night when Maholm cruised.
After Butler's two-out single in the third, Maholm retired 12 of the next 13 hitters he faced. He surely could have gone well passed the seventh if needed -- he had thrown just 85 pitches by that point -- but was removed for a pinch-hitter as the Pirates found themselves with an opportunity to push across some additional runs.
"He really settled in and gave us a quality outing," Russell said. "He threw a very good game for us."
The win was the fourth straight for the Pirates, just the second time this season that the club has strung together that many.