Paul Maholm was the only starting pitcher in Major League Baseball to have not given up a run before tonight’s game. The Pirates hadn’t been over .500 yet this season. The Braves hadn’t lost 2 games in a row yet this season. All of that changed with tonight’s 3-1 win.
A more confident James McDonald took the mound for the Pirates tonight. “Every pitch, I felt confident,” JMac said after the game. He started off the game by striking out Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers. The 2nd inning wasn’t as smooth: a hit-by-pitch, double, and walk loaded the bases before another walk to Andrelton Simmons drove in the Braves’ first run. JMac dominated from then on, only allowing another 2 walks and 1 hit for the rest of his 6 innings of work. The Braves managed just 1 run against him on only 2 hits and 4 walks. JMac struck out 9 Braves batters tonight. “That’s the guy we’re looking for,” Clint Hurdle said. “That’s the guy our team likes playing behind.” Catcher Michael McKenry mentioned the confidence as well: “He had confidence and went after guys.” Tony Watson pitched a scoreless 7th inning, giving up just 1 hit and striking out 1. Mark Melancon pitched a one-hit 8th inning, and Jason Grilli pitched a perfect 9th, striking out all 3 batters he faced. The save was Grilli’s 6th of the season, tied for 3rd place in the National League.
Paul Maholm hit Starling Marte with a pitch to lead off the 1st inning, but after that Maholm was back to being his dominant self, and it looked like his scoreless streak might continue a while longer. He set down the Bucs in order until the 4th inning, when Andrew McCutchen doubled with 2 outs. A flyout ended the inning, and although the Pirates walked once and got a hit in the 5th inning, they once again failed to score a run.
Then came the 6th inning. Starling Marte led off and walked. Jose Tabata sacrificed him to 2nd base. Andrew McCutchen doubled, and Marte scored. Maholm’s scoreless streak was over, and the Pirates were tied, 1-1. Gaby Sanchez came to bat next. On a 1-2 fastball, Gaby sent the pitch into the bushes in center field. It was, of course, the first homerun Maholm has given up this year. “I think that whole entire thing started with Cutch getting that big hit, tying the game, getting in scoring position again,” Gaby said after the game. “Against [Maholm] I’m just trying to stay inside the baseball, drive it to right center. I got a little out in front, hit it over.”
Those 3 6-inning runs were all JMac and the Pirates needed to get the win and improve to 9 and 8 on the season. They’re also now guaranteed to at least split this series with the Braves.
Tomorrow is Game 4. Jonathan Sanchez (0-2, 12.96 ERA) will make his first real start at home. Tuesday’s game was called after 2 innings. Jonathan gave up 2 runs during the 1st inning of that game and nothing in the 2nd inning. Kris Medlen (1-1, 1.42 ERA) will start for the Braves.