HOUSTON -- A controversy-free day for Carlos Zambrano is as rare as a Chicago winter without potholes.
In the last two weeks, Zambrano has smashed a Gatorade dispenser, bumped an umpire, received a six-game suspension, missed the team charter and announced he would retire at the end of his contract.
But Zambrano was relatively low-key throwing eight strong innings Wednesday night before Angel Guzman gave up the game-winning single to Geoff Blum in the ninth inning of Houston's 2-1 victory at Minute Maid Park.
Manager Lou Piniella lifted Zambrano after 104 pitches, though he had allowed only three hits and two walks in his third straight dominant outing.
Could Zambrano have gone one more inning?
"If I go another inning and give up two runs, [people would say] it's Lou's fault and [ask] 'Why did he let him go nine?' " Zambrano said. "It was a good [decision] -- 104 pitches, eight innings. Let the bullpen do their job, and I did my job."
Piniella said lifting Zambrano was an easy call.
"He did his job, pitched eight real nice innings of baseball," Piniella said. "You can't pitch any better than Carlos did. You just have to score runs. What can I say?"
Guzman, who had thrown 13 1/3 scoreless innings, gave up a leadoff single to Miguel Tejada in the ninth before walking Hunter Pence. Tejada advanced on Carlos Lee's fly ball before Piniella ordered an intentional walk to Lance Berkman that loaded the bases for Blum.
Guzman had given up only one hit in 23 at-bats with runners in scoring position but Blum dumped the game-winner into center.
Geovany Soto's second-inning homer was the lone Cubs run off Wandy Rodriguez and reliever Chris Sampson.
Zambrano was calm before the game, unless you count kicking a garbage can in mock anger, or shouting at a reporter: "I've got two blisters. Write it."
As it turned out, the garbage remained intact after the big kick from Big Z, while the blisters were on his left hand and did not affect his pitching.
Though he didn't get a victory, Zambrano has looked more and more like his old self since the memorable May 27 outing at Wrigley Field that resulted in his suspension. Over his last three starts, Zambrano has allowed two runs on 12 hits in 21 innings for a 0.86 ERA.
His next start will be Tuesday at Wrigley in the opener of the first round of the City Series against the White Sox.
Milton Bradley suffered a leg cramp while grounding into a double play in the fifth inning but remained in the game. Alfonso Soriano was hitless, and the Cubs offense remained inconsistent, leaving Piniella at a loss for words.
"You all ask me a lot of the same questions every night," he said with a laugh. "I'm just going to have a sheet that I have my answer printed out on. I'm going to hand it out, and that's the end of it."
Up next Thursday at Astros, 1:05 p.m., CSNCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times