It may have been 102 degrees Friday night outside Bank One Ballpark, but Carlos Zambrano definitely was the hottest man in Phoenix.
Zambrano came within four outs of throwing a no-hitter in the Cubs' 4-1 win over Arizona before a controversial call robbed him with two outs in the eighth.
With the crowd of 39,612 on his side, the 22-year-old right-hander retired the first two men in the eighth before Shea Hillenbrand hit a slow topper down the third-base line.
Aramis Ramirez stabbed the ball near the foul line and made the long throw across the diamond, appearing to get the runner thanks to a long stretch by first baseman Randall Simon.
But first-base umpire Bill Miller ruled Hillenbrand safe, spoiling the no-hit bid. Replays showed the throw barely edged the runner.
"I was real sad about that play," Zambrano said. "That took a little bit of my concentration away."
Asked about the call Miller refused to admit he got it wrong.
"I had the play safe," Miller said. "I've got to go with what I had on the field."
Zambrano lost his shutout bid in the ninth after two outs with a walk, a single by Luis Gonzalez and an RBI double by Raul Mondesi but wound up with a three-hit complete game.
"Boy, you hate to see a no-hitter end like that," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Because they don't come along very often. That would've been a tremendous feather in that young man's cap. He got the victory and we got the victory, but that would've been great."
Zambrano (12-9) was gunning for the first no-hitter by a Cubs pitcher since Milt Pappas in 1972 and the 11th by a Cub since 1904. He outdueled Arizona's Curt Schilling, who struck out 14 in eight innings but served up three home runs, two to Sammy Sosa.
The Cubs moved to within a half-game of first-place Houston in the National League Central, and are a half-game ahead of St. Louis.
Zambrano didn't blame Miller for missing a close call in such an intense situation.
"I saw the play and I thought [Hillenbrand] was out," Zambrano said. "But [Miller] is human. Anyone can make a mistake."
Sosa's home runs in his first two at-bats staked Zambrano to a 3-0 lead, and the 22-year-old right-hander took center stage the rest of the way. He retired the first 12 men he faced on only 35 pitches and didn't allow a baserunner until walking Mondesi leading off the fifth.
When Hillebrand reached base for the first Diamondbacks hit, Zambrano crouched down with his hands over his head. But no one from the Cubs argued the call. Baker said arguing wouldn't have changed things.
"And No. 2, I've seen many times a guy gives up a no-hitter late like that and he ends up losing concentration and focus," Baker said. "I didn't want to do anything to take away from that."
Zambrano needed only 93 pitches in winning for the sixth times in seven starts.
"Everything was perfect," he said.
Except for one little call.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times