PITTSBURGH — Russell Martin decided to take James McDonald to the movies before Saturday night’s game.
Instead of going to the multiplex, they headed to the video room, and Martin, usually the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting catcher, showed a highlight reel to McDonald, the struggling right-hander. The entire video consisted of McDonald striking out batters.
The idea worked as McDonald struck out nine and allowed only one run on two hits as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves 3-1.
It was quite a contrast to his previous start, when he was tagged for eight runs in 1 2-3 innings on Monday in a loss to St. Louis.
Gaby Sanchez hit a tiebreaking two-run home run in the sixth inning to hand Atlanta (13-4), which has the best record in the major leagues, consecutive losses for the first time this season. It also marked the first time the Braves lost a game in which they had scored.
“I know when I’m not hitting well, sometime I’ll look all my line drives or hard hit balls,” said Martin, who played third base on Saturday while Michael McKenry caught McDonald. “It gives you some positive reinforcement if you’re struggling. I thought it might help James out a little bit.”
McDonald responded by striking out the side in the first inning, setting down B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton on 13 pitches.
“I was motivated after watching the video,” McDonald said. “I wanted to go out and throw well. I wanted to set the tone right from the start, and I did. I felt good about the way I threw.”
Sanchez’s first home run of the season broke a 1-1 tie and capped a three-run sixth. Paul Maholm (3-1) carried a two-hit shutout into the inning and had not allowed a run in 25 1-3 innings this season.
“We had put together some good at-bats against him leading up to that inning, and we felt it we stayed patient that we could score some runs off him,” Sanchez said. “We just kept putting good at-bats together against him until we broke through.”
Maholm allowed three runs and four hits in six innings with three walks and five strikeouts.
“I never really thought about the streak because I knew I was going to give up some runs at some point,” Maholm said. “I’m not upset about that. I’m just disappointed that I made two bad pitches, one to (Andrew) McCutchen and one to Gaby that cost us the game.”
Starling Marte opened the decisive sixth by drawing a walk, and he was sacrificed to second by Jose Tabata. McCutchen then drove in Marte to tie it with a double off the right-field wall on a night when fans received a bobblehead doll of the All-Star center fielder.
Sanchez followed by a driving a 1-2 pitch to center field to put the Pirates ahead.
“It was a matter of our hitters sticking with the game plan,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “We stayed patient until Paul left a couple of pitches up in the zone and we hit them.”
McCutchen and Sanchez each had two hits.
Jason Grilli pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to stay perfect in save opportunities at 6-for-6.
McDonald issued four walks, and three came in the second inning when he allowed his only run.
He hit Evan Gattis with a pitch to start the inning, and the Braves then loaded the bases on Chris Johnson’s double and a walk to Dan Uggla. One out later, Andrelton Simmons walked to force home Gattis.
McDonald bounced back to strike out Maholm and B.J. Upton to end the inning.
“We just got one (run) there, and that hurt,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We get McDonald on the ropes, but instead of putting a big crooked number up there or maybe even getting him out of the game, we let him wiggle out of it. We hit some balls hard off him, but that was really our only (scoring) chance.”
Hurdle had a heart-to-heart talk with McDonald following his previous start and hopes Saturday night’s game is a steppingstone in the 28-year-old’s career.
“It’s like he’s two different people,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes, he’s the guy everyone wants to play behind, and other times he’s the guy who everyone is wondering why he isn’t the guy everyone wants to play behind. At some point, you have to take ownership of your career, and I’d like to think James has taken some step in that direction in the last few days.”
NOTES: Atlanta second baseman Uggla left the game in the middle of the fourth inning with a strained left calf. ... The Braves placed infielder Blake DeWitt on the 15-day disabled list with a strained lower back and recalled right-hander David Carpenter from Class AAA Gwinnett. ... Martin made the ninth start of his career at third base but first since 2008 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. ... Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano (broken right upper arm), pitching for Class AA Altoona on an injury rehabilitation assignment Saturday, gave up four runs and four hits in 2 2-3 innings in a loss to Harrisburg in the Eastern League. ... Atlanta right-hander Kris Medlen (1-1, 1.42), who has received just five runs of support in his three starts, pitches today against left-hander Jonathan Sanchez (0-2, 12.96) in the finale of the four-game series.