|Chicago Cubs center fielder David DeJesus catches a fly ball hit by Houston Astros' Brian Bixler during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Friday, June 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)|
Astros scuffle against Maholm
CHICAGO—A deflating loss the night before and an early-morning arrival into Chicago were just two of the hurdles for the Houston Astros as they came to Wrigley Field to start a three-game series against the Cubs.
And then there was Paul Maholm, the Chicago left-hander looking to shake a long winless drought.
No excuses from Houston manager Brad Mills after Maholm allowed four hits in 8 1-3 innings to lead the Cubs to a 4-0 win.
"Not at all. Maholm has thrown the ball well against us. We had some pretty good swings on the ball and they were caught," Mills said.
The Astros, who lost to the Padres 7-3 on Thursday night when San Diego scored six in the ninth, got into Chicago around 2:30 a.m. and then to their hotel about an hour later. Then they faced an afternoon game that was delayed 55 minutes by rain. They didn't muster much offense.
They drove out Maholm in the ninth on a single by Brian Bixler and double by Carlos Lee. But Chris Johnson lined out with the bases loaded to end the game.
"My job is to hit the ball hard. I can't place it. I wish I could," said Johnson. "How much sleep we had, no one wants to hear about that."
He credited Maholm, who is now 12-6 against the Astros in his career.
"He is one of those guys who really mixes his pitches well," Johnson said.
Maholm had given up nine hits and seven runs in just 3 1-3 innings of his previous outing against the Diamondbacks and had been 0-4 in his previous eight outings, although he pitched well enough to win in some of those games.
Friday he mixed his pitches, had good control and worked well with rookie catcher Steve Clevenger, who also contributed his first major league homer, one of three Chicago hit off Bud Norris.
"If you are doubting your pitches or whatever you are not going to be as crisp," Maholm said. "Whether I was throwing the so-called correct pitch, I was aggressive with it. And obviously I've faced those guys a decent amount and kind of know their tendencies."
Maholm (5-6), making 200th major league start, earned his first win since he tossed seven shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over Atlanta on May 9. He walked one, hit a batter and struck out six. Carlos Marmol got the save, getting the final two outs.
Jordan Schafer and Matt Downs had the only other hits for Houston against Maholm. Schafer's third-inning single came on a fly ball that fell in front of left fielder Alfonso Soriano, and Downs singled in the eighth.
"The guys made some great plays," Maholm said. "And three homers always helps."
Luis Valbuena hit a two-out solo homer off Norris (5-5) in the second. Clevenger belted a two-run shot in the fourth for his first major league homer, and Alfonso Soriano connected in the sixth.
All 15 of Soriano's homers have come since May 15. Clevenger will savor his first. He got the ball, as well.
"To hit a home run in the big leagues, it's a great feeling," he said. "But more important we got the victory and we got the shutout."
Norris allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. He came off the disabled list earlier in the day after being sidelines with a sprained left knee. He wanted to go longer after throwing only 87 pitches but Mills pulled him.
"Manager made his decision, so I've got to let it be with that," Norris said. "But I felt strong. `'
Houston put the first two men on in the third, but Downs was thrown out at third with Norris attempting to bunt, dousing the rally. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro ended the inning by roaming behind second to flag down Bixler's grounder and throw him out.
Bixler hit a long drive to center in the sixth, but David DeJesus leaped into the ivy to pull it down. The Cubs nearly doubled off Norris, who had walked, but Castro's relay throw was wild past first, allowing Norris to move to third.
NOTES: SS Jed Lowrie was out of the lineup to rest following the Astros' difficult 7-3 loss to the Padres on Thursday night, but hit in the eighth. 2B Jose Altuve sat out a fifth straight game (right hamstring).