CHICAGO -- Critical eyes may value a pitcher's wins less than ever these days, but there is still something disconcerting about a winless record. The implication still exists that, at least on some level, he is not doing his job.
Shaun Marcum may not have done his job effectively for much of this season, but he had provided enough bright spots that his 0-9 record heading into Wednesday's game, the most losses in baseball without a victory, seemed illogical.
That all changed when Marcum scattered four hits over eight innings in a 3-0 win over the White Sox, earning his first victory and an Interleague-series split for the Mets at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It's nice to be able to do that every now and again," Marcum said.
Though he put men on base regularly throughout the middle innings, Marcum's only real trouble surfaced in the fourth, when the White Sox placed runners on the corners with one out. But after center fielder Juan Lagares snared Dayan Viciedo's line drive for the inning's second out, Marcum induced a flyout to snuff the rally.
It was like that all night for the Mets, who relied on the defense of Lagares, shortstop Omar Quintanilla, second baseman Daniel Murphy and others to silence Chicago's bats.
"It definitely gives you more than a spark," Marcum said of the Mets' defense. "It gives you a lot of confidence that if you make a mistake and it's hit right at somebody, they're going to make the plays behind you."
For the Mets, the only problem was a familiar one: Despite Marcum's effectiveness, they could not score early against White Sox starter John Danks. That dilemma vanished suddenly in the fifth, when Danks allowed singles to Josh Satin and Andrew Brown, and shortstop Alexei Ramirez -- Tuesday's walk-off hero -- committed a fielding error that allowed two runs to score.
Two batters later, Eric Young Jr. grounded an RBI single off third baseman Brent Morel's glove, giving the Mets a three-run lead.
"I'm just proud of what I'm doing so far here," said Young, whose 3-for-4 night increased his average to .414 in seven games since joining New York in a trade with Colorado. "I'm excited. Guys around here are excited. It's a lot of fun coming to the field."
It was enough support for Marcum, whose victory seemed significant for more than mere personal reasons. As recently as last week, Marcum was the Mets pitcher most in danger of losing his rotation spot once top prospect Zack Wheeler arrived in the big leagues. That situation changed dramatically when Jon Niese landed on the disabled list, where he is likely to stay for most -- if not all -- of the remainder of the season.
So it was important that Marcum begin performing, displaying the qualities that prompted the Mets to lavish $4 million on him this winter.
Marcum certainly did so with his eight shutout innings, though not necessarily in the way the Mets envisioned. Burdened by what he called a "terrible" changeup in his pregame warmup, Marcum made a decision to scrap his signature pitch altogether in favor of a split-fingered change. He had never used the pitch before in his eight-year career, but said he may turn to it more often in the future.
And why not? The results, clearly, were there. Marcum needed merely 86 pitches to cruise through seven innings and 96 to complete eight, giving way at that point to closer Bobby Parnell, who generated three groundouts in a 1-2-3 ninth.
"There's just nothing there," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of his team's offensive approach. "It's just flat. It's unacceptable stuff. You got to put something on the board."
Marcum knows the feeling. For nine starts, he was winless, a victim of statistical misfortune. Now, he has something to show for his work.
"I think it's huge," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Everybody's got pride in this league. You don't get to the big leagues without having a little bit of an ego and a sense of pride, and nobody likes to look up and see a zero in the win column under their name."