In six games he pitched against the Braves at Turner Field, Paul Maholm allowed one home run in 39 innings. In his first game pitching for the Braves, he gave up twice that many to one unlikely Astro on Saturday night.
Justin Maxwell had a career-high four hits and drove in three runs with a pair of homers as lowly Houston won 3-2 at Turner Field in Maholm’s Braves debut.
It was only the second win in 18 games for the Astros and second loss in 11 games for the Braves.
“The two home runs were probably the only two mistakes I really made,” said Maholm (9-7), who had been unbeaten in his last six starts for the Cubs before being traded on Monday. “The first one, a fastball ran back over [the plate], and the second one was a hanging curveball. And he did a good job of obviously hitting them a long way.”
The Braves slipped back to three games behind National League East leader Washington after the Nationals rallied for six runs in the eighth inning of a 10-7 win against Miami.
Dan Uggla hit a tying two-run single with two out in the sixth inning, but Maxwell led off the seventh with his 12th homer of the season and second of the night to put the Astros back in front to stay.
“I thought [Maholm] did a helluva job,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Most nights with our offense, you win that game. We had a chance.”
Maholm was charged with three runs, six hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings and tagged with his first loss since June 23. He threw 57 strikes in 84 pitches.
“I thought he did a great job,” Uggla said. “He made two mistakes to Justin that resulted in three runs. Even then, even with those two mistakes, he still gave us a chance to win. He really did a good job, kept them off balance and just did his thing.”
The veteran lefty had allowed just one homer while going 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his past six starts. He was the first Cubs lefty of the modern era to give up one or no runs in six consecutive starts of at least six innings.
Maholm’s 1.62 ERA in six previous starts at Turner Field for Pittsburgh and Chicago was the Mississippi native’s best at any ballpark where he’d pitched more than once.
“I made two bad pitches,” Maholm said. “Sometimes they’re fouled off, sometimes they’re hit for home runs. If I execute the pitch were I wanted to, then the worst-case scenario is he gets a hit but obviously it’s not a longball.”
For the Braves, it was the second loss in nine games on their 10-game homestand. They were beaten by Maxwell, rookie right-hander Lucas Harrell (9-7), and the youngest and worst team in the major leagues.
Harrell allowed two runs, four hits and five walks in six innings.
“He had really good stuff,” third baseman Chipper Jones said. “Good sinker and a four-seamer, change-up, cut the ball. I can see where he’s pretty tough on righties, because his ball moves a lot and it’s firm. You don’t see a lot of that these days. Give the kid credit.
“We battled all night and finally took advantage of some walks. Uggla got the two-run knock. But two pitches cost us three runs. That’s the difference between a 3-2 loss and a 2-nothing shutout.”
Harrell’s eighth win snapped Houston’s franchise-record 12-game losing streak on July 29, and the Astros had lost all four games since. In fact, they had lost 48 of their past 62 games before Saturday.
The Astros came in batting .207 against lefties with a .274 on-base percentage and .335 slugging percentage, the worst in the majors in all three categories. They didn’t get an abundance of hits Saturday, but got a couple of big ones from Maxwell in the second career multi-hit game for the former Nationals outfielder.
“I thought [Maholm] did great,” Jones said. “He got strikeouts when he needed it, got double plays when he needed it. Just two bad pitches. And not to say they were bad pitches; you might just be running into a hitter who’s going pretty good right now. Maxwell was finding a hole wherever he hit it tonight. Unfortunately two of them flew out of the ballpark against us.”
Maxwell was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees on April 8. He played center field Saturday in place of slumping former Brave Jordan Schafer.
Maxwell snapped a scoreless tie with his two-run, two-out homer in the fourth inning.
The Braves had a prime scoring chance in the fourth, putting two on with one out after Jones’ leadoff single and Brian McCann’s walk. But Uggla swung at the next pitch and grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Maholm pitched two perfect innings – three groundouts, three strikeouts – in the fifth and sixth, and the Braves tied the score in the sixth after Harrell issued three consecutive two-out walks to Jones, Freeman and McCann. Uggla’s potential bases-clearing hit landed foul by a couple of feet, but he stayed with it and hit a single that drove in two runs.
Uggla’s still hitting a meager .211. But after driving in just five runs in 38 games through July 28, he has four doubles and eight RBIs in his past seven games.
The score didn’t stay tied for long. Maxwell hit a leadoff homer on Maholm’s second pitch of the seventh inning for a 3-2 Astros lead, quieting a crowd of 30,029 that had gotten a charge out of Uggla’s hit the previous inning.
“It’s unfortunate, especially after we tie the game [in the sixth],” Maholm said. “The first guy put them back on top [in the seventh]. The team’s been playing great … and tomorrow we’ve got to take a series.”