CHICAGO – After being shelled in his last start and searching for his first win in nearly two months, left-hander Paul Maholm’s name hasn’t popped up in many trade rumors.
But Maholm, an eight-year veteran who baseball’s worst team would be willing to move, might have started changing that with Friday’s performance at Wrigley Field. He tossed his best game as a Cub and nearly notched the North Siders’ first complete game of the year.
Maholm threw 81⁄3 innings of shutout ball in his 200th career start and snapped an eight-game personal winless streak in the Cubs’ 4-0 victory against the Houston Astros. A 55-minute rain delay didn’t hamper Maholm en route to picking up his first win since May 15 at St. Louis.
“It’s part of it,” Maholm said of trade rumors, “You just go out there each day and be prepared, do your job and it’s in their hands. We’ll see. I’ve enjoyed it here and want to be here and obviously enjoyed pitching in this ballpark.”
The left-hander was hoping to go the distance against Houston. The Cubs (27-49), the Brewers and Rockies, are the only teams without a complete game.
Carlos Marmol picked up his sixth save of the year to secure the Cubs’ fifth-straight series opening win at Wrigley, their longest streak since 2008.
“I wanted it,” said Maholm, who was replaced with two men on and one out in the ninth. “Obviously I understand the situation. I gave up two hits. But after the last outing I’ll take what I got and go on, and I usually pitch good in Atlanta, so I’m looking forward to getting into the hot and humid weather and letting my sinker work a little more.”
The Astros (32-45) never truly threatened against Maholm, scattering four hits and drawing just one walk. Jordan Schafer connected for a single in the third, but Maholm was locked in and retired 14 of the next 15 batters. Matt Downs’ one-out single in the eighth and two ninth-inning hits were all the Astros managed off Maholm (5-6).
The Cubs’ offense found its power despite a breeze blowing in off Lake Michigan. Luis Valbuena’s solo home run in the second broke the scoreless tie, one of three homers Houston starter Bud Norris (5-5) surrendered. Three of Valbuena’s 11 hits this season are long balls.
“He’s done a great job and gotten big hits too,” manager Dale Sveum said of Valbuena. “When he gets his hits, they all seem to be big hits, to take the lead, to add on if we’re up by one. He’s done a great job. Wish we had him here earlier maybe.”
Catcher Steve Clevenger collected his first big league homer, extending the Cubs’ lead to 3-0. Clevenger’s work behind the plate was nearly as impressive, though, and Sveum praised the rookie for his ability to call a game.
“It’s a dream come true to hit a home run in the big leagues,” Clevenger said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Alfonso Soriano’s leadoff home run in the fifth landed onto Waveland Avenue for his 15th homer of the year – all coming since May 15. He’s hit the most homers in the National League during that span, with Toronto’s Jose Bautista leading all players with 18.
“I can’t say it enough, those kind of guys that put those numbers up and you give them the opportunity to have at-bats, that media guide doesn’t lie,” Sveum said. “I say it all the time, it’s a matter of when and how hot they get, what months they get hot.”