CHICAGO (AP) — Paul Maholm welcomed Mark Buehrle back to Chicago with a spot-on impersonation of his fellow veteran left-hander.
Maholm pitched eight innings, Alfonso Soriano homered and the Cubs beat Buehrle and the Miami Marlins 4-2 Thursday to complete a solid 5-1 homestand.
“With Buehrle, you watch him over his career. You work fast, you mix speeds, you keep the ball down, you put your defense to work and they make plays,” Maholm said. “I’m all about trying to get it over with quick.”
Maholm (8-6) allowed one run and four hits to win his fourth consecutive start, matching a career best. Including his first career relief appearance July 8 against the Mets, the lefty has allowed just three runs in his last 30 1-3 innings for a sparkling 0.89 ERA over his last five games.
“He stayed strong today. He kept it going the whole time,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
Pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs delivered an RBI single in the ninth before Carlos Marmol finished the five-hitter for his 11th save in 13 chances, sending Chicago to its 14th win in 19 games. The Cubs took two of three in the series to improve to 10-4 in July.
Buehrle was back in the Windy City for the first time since he left the White Sox for a $58 million, four-year contract with Miami, where he was reunited with manager Ozzie Guillen. The left-hander won 161 games in 12 seasons in Chicago and was greeted with mostly cheers when he batted for the first time in the third inning.
Buehrle’s big free-agent deal was part of a major offseason overhaul for the Marlins, who also signed shortstop Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell. While Reyes and Bell have underperformed, Buehrle (9-9) has been the most dependable member of Miami’s rotation. He leads the team in wins and innings, and has one of the club’s two complete games this season.
Reyes’ difficult season continued Thursday when he was robbed of a pair of hits in the series finale. Shortstop Starlin Castro made a leaping grab of his liner in the sixth and Reed Johnson had a terrific diving catch in right-center in the eighth.
“I just kind of put my head down at first and took a few steps and fortunately the wind was kind of blowing across back towards me,” said Johnson, who received a long ovation from the Wrigley Field crowd of 32,741 after the impressive grab. “So it kind of checked the ball up a little bit and gave me time to run underneath it.”
Buehrle and Maholm were in a scoreless pitchers’ duel before Soriano hit a leadoff drive into the left-field basket in the fifth for his 18th homer, bolstering his credentials ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadlines. The slugger batted .391 (9 for 23) with three homers and six RBIs during the homestand.
Soriano’s laser-like shot seemed to spark the Cubs’ lineup. The next three batters reached to load the bases, and Luis Valbuena hit a sacrifice fly to center field. Maholm struck out for the second out, but Johnson followed with a liner into left field to give Chicago a 4-0 advantage.
“It seemed like I had nothing working,” Buehrle said. “Changeup, couldn’t throw that for a strike. I think I threw one good one the whole day.”
That was more than enough for Maholm, who allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in each of the first three innings but escaped unscathed each time.
“He was staying on the corners,” said Marlins left fielder Austin Kearns, who went 0 for 2. “He’s a little deceptive. He did a good job.”
Pinch-hitter Donovan Solano tripled and scored on Emilio Bonifacio’s grounder in the sixth for Miami’s first run.