Maholm gets explosive return to Pittsburgh

The crowd a Pittsburgh’s PNC Park figures to be bigger than normal when the Chicago Cubs' Paul Maholm pitches in his old haunt Saturday.

Maholm's presence, though, is just the sideshow.

“I was just informed that it’s fireworks night so on Saturday there’s a good chance there will be some fans there,” Maholm said.

For now he will pretend it’s not a coincidence the postgame festivities are paired up with his return.

“The fireworks are just for me, obviously,” he joked.

On his Twitter account, Maholm recently touted his return and said the responses from his former team’s fans were mixed. He isn’t sure what to expect and isn’t too worried about it.

He pitched well along the Allegheny River but wasn’t exactly a legend. The club had no glory days that will forever intertwine him with the fan base. He said the moment he will most remember from his Pittsburgh days was the club finding itself in first place near midseason last season only to fade away in a flash.

“Obviously, I’m looking forward to going back and seeing a lot of different people from people that were in the clubhouse to people in the community that I got to know over the years,” Maholm said. “I’m glad I’m not pitching the first day. I can kind of relax and get ready for Saturday.”

When he does get on that mound again, things will be very similar to when he was wearing a Pirates uniform. He will be pitching for an underachieving club that has struggled to support him with runs.

He knows the routine and isn’t about to get uptight about it at this stage of his career.

“I hope to pitch well and have fun with it,” he said. “Obviously playing with most of the guys they never got to face me so I’ll try to take advantage of that and make sure that hopefully we’re on a winning streak and turn this thing around.”

It won’t be much of a winning streak. Even if the Cubs manage to snap their nine-game skid on Friday they will enter Maholm’s start with only the slightest head of steam.

His Pirates teams never threatened for a division title or even a wild-card spot when he was there and this season it will be more of the same in a different uniform. Run support can’t be his chief concern, lack of runs for the opponent has to be his main focus.

“I think as a pitcher your job is to go out there and win the game,” Maholm said. “With that there are certain innings that you have to put up zeroes. You can’t worry about how we’re swinging. Obviously if we put up four or five runs it makes it easier, but as a pitcher your goal is to give up zero anyway. You don’t do it very often but that’s your goal and you job is to execute pitches and compete. Try not to put the offense behind early. That’s probably the biggest thing for those guys to let them relax and get it going.”

Maholm will try to relax Saturday by falling into his old routine the best he can. On days he pitched in Pittsburgh he ate a burrito for lunch and then got to the ballpark for his game-day preparations. Afterward maybe he can enjoy the fireworks show as the winning pitcher.

With the way the Cubs are playing these days it’s a boldly optimistic thought, but if Maholm’s Pirates days taught him anything it’s that sometimes optimism is all you have at times.

“I think the best thing to do is that we have each other’s back,” Maholm said. “You pull for each other and you expect to win each night you come in here. There isn’t one person here who is blaming the offense for not doing it or the starting pitcher for not getting it done one night.

“We have to do it as a group and that’s how you do it. There is no other way around it. The easiest way to get things going is to have a blow out, pitch well, hit well and get everything on a roll.”

And if the Cubs can win one, they can go ahead and think the fireworks are just for them.