NEW YORK – The Braves watched Paul Maholm pitch this way enough times against them, so it was a lot more enjoyable watching him do it for them.
Maholm threw a three-hitter in a 4-0 win against the New York Mets on Friday night, pitching his sixth career complete game and fourth shutout to get his first Braves win in his second start since being traded to Atlanta.
“Masterful performance,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Maholm had five strikeouts and no walks and recorded 27 outs in 29 batters.
Jason Heyward belted a two-run homer in the first inning and Dan Uggla hit a two-run homer in the eighth, but this night belonged to Maholm (10-7).
He threw a shutout in 95 pitches (64 strikes), the fewest by a Braves pitcher in a shutout since Greg Maddux threw back-to-back four-hitters in September 2000, in 90 pitches against Arizona and 89 pitches against Florida.
Maholm is 6-1 with a 1.20 ERA in his past eight starts, and the left-hander equaled his career-best wins total from a 10-15 season with the Pirates in 2007.
“It’s obviously good to get off to a good start when you come over to a new team,” said Maholm, a Mississippi native who grew up cheering for the Braves. “And to get the first one out of the way, a complete game, it’s fun…. Rossy [catcher David Ross] called a great game, and the defense made some great plays.”
Uggla, recently awakened from his long hitting slumber, added a two-run homer in the eighth for the Braves, who played without injured Chipper Jones and Brian McCann and won for the 13th time in the past 16 games. They’ve won 23 of 31.
They also have a six-game winning streak against the Mets after losing the first four games between the teams this season.
“Offensively we didn’t do much, other than two two-run homers,” Gonzalez said. “And I tell you what, the last one by Danny was big. He could go back out in the eighth inning with a four-run lead instead of a two-run lead.”
Uggla has hit .307 with seven extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in his past 11 games, after hitting .110 with four extra-base hits and nine RBIs in his previous 42 games.
Heyward continued to sizzle. He has five homers in his past 15 games to give him a career-best 19 for the season, topping the 18 he hit as a rookie in 2010.
But the story was Maholm, who was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in five previous games at Citi Field. The left-hander was superb Friday, keeping Mets hitters guessing with a mix of fastballs, cutters, change-ups and sliders.
“Obviously he pounded the strike zone,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “We swung at a lot of pitches early in the count. He was strike 1 on a lot of guys. No consistent pattern. He threw some first pitch curveballs, some first-pitch fastballs, some first-pitch sliders, some change-ups. Really kept us off balance. We didn’t adjust very good.”
Maholm worked at his usual modest 87-89 mph with his fastballs, but placed most of them right where he wanted them to go, just as he did his breaking pitches. The Braves have seen something similar to this before from Maholm, who was 3-1 with a 1.36 ERA in eight starts against the Braves, including 2-0 with an 0.69 ERA in two this season before the trade.
“You see his ball decent and you want to swing at it, but it’s just moving so much that you can’t square it up,” Ross said. “I was like, these guys are still going to be aggressive and swing, they’re not taking. Because I remember being in that situation when we were in it, like when he beat us in Chicago 1-nothing. He did that tonight, just throwing the ball in the middle of the plate, having his sinker cut or breaking ball he brought out late and change-ups early on, and double plays.
“That’s a catcher’s dream. A lot of fun.”
Maholm had a 5.02 ERA in his 10-win season with Pittsburgh, a far cry from his current 3.50.
“When you’re throwing 87 out there, you’ve got to know how to pitch from the get-go.” Ross said “And he’s gotten nothing but better as he’s gotten older. There’s something to be said about veteran pitchers that know what they want to do to every hitter and know how to read hitters like catchers do and try to get on the same page as catchers.”
Maholm had a five-decision winning streak snapped when he gave up three runs on two homers in seven innings of a 3-2 loss against Houston in his first start for Atlanta. He got back into his pre-trade groove against the Mets.
He needed only 48 pitches to get through the first five innings, recorded 16 outs in the first 16 batters he faced, and didn’t allow a runner to advance past first base until Rob Johnson’s one-out double in the sixth.
Ruben Tejada reached on an Maholm error in the first inning and Daniel Murphy on a single in the second. Each time Maholm induced an inning-ending double-play grounder from the next batter.
He got a pair of ground-ball outs after Johnson’s sixth-inning double, and got another ground out after Scott Hairston’s two-out double in the seventh.
He got stellar defense in the sixth inning from center fielder Michael Bourn, who robbed Jason Bay of a potential extra-base hit with a running catch at the warning track, and from shortstop Paul Janish, who ignored a flying barrel from a broken bat and fielded Andres Torres’ grounder for the third out in the inning.
“My main goal is to mix speeds, challenge them down [in the strike zone] and get groundballs,” Maholm said. “The guys made a bunch of great plays. Tthe one at third [by Juan Francisco]. Freddie [Freeman] made a great play [at first]. Two double plays. Mike went and got the one [warning-track flyball] in center… And obviously with J-Hey and Uggs hitting home runs, it helped me just make my pitches.”