For entertainment value alone, there may be no pitcher in baseball more fun to watch than Carlos Zambrano.
Whether he's pacing the mound, talking into his glove or throwing down his bat after a strikeout, Zambrano typically is more wired than Silicon Valley.
Zambrano electrified a crowd of 39,450 Thursday on a summer-like afternoon at Wrigley Field, performing his high-wire act without a net in a 10-5 victory over Pittsburgh.
"I always prefer a player who has some emotions to a player who doesn't have any," manager Dusty Baker said. "In time, you can channel his emotions. You don't want him to calm down, you want him to channel it. He wants to win. He wants to win very badly."
After escaping a shaky first inning with only one run scoring, Zambrano earned his first victory of 2004 by shutting down the Pirates over the next five innings while the Cubs' hitters went into overdrive.
The Cubs consider themselves a hot-weather team and looked statuesque during the Opening Day freeze-out against the Pirates on Monday, with windchills in the 20s.
But Chicago is Chicago, and three days later they got a taste of June in the middle of April. With a game-time temperature of 70, the wind blowing out at 14 m.p.h. and flyball pitcher Josh Fogg on the mound for the Pirates, the stars were in perfect alignment for a slugfest.
Aramis Ramirez hit a three-run homer in the first, his third in the last two games. Michael Barrett had the first two-homer game of his career, taking over the team RBI lead with nine. And Moises Alou added his third home run in the last four games, a stretch in which the Cubs have belted 11 homers.
They have scored eight or more runs in three of their last four games, showing signs of the quick-strike offense most expected coming out of spring training.
The Cubs have won their last two series heading into a four-game rematch with Cincinnati starting Friday at Wrigley.
Zambrano wasn't as sharp as in his first start in Atlanta, but he managed to come up with the big pitch at the most opportune time. In two starts, Zambrano has a 1.38 earned-run average and 13 strikeouts in 13 innings.
His only jaw-dropping moment Thursday came in the third inning with the Cubs leading 5-1. After loading the bases by hitting Craig Wilson with one out, Zambrano induced Chris Stynes to pop up to first, then knocked down Jose Castillo on a 2-2 pitch to straddle the tightrope again.
With Castillo thinking Zambrano would go away, he instead came back inside with a sinking 96 m.p.h. fastball that fooled Castillo completely. Zambrano escaped again, walking off the mound like a matador sans cape.
"I tried to go middle-in [on Castillo], even though the catcher was set up outside," Zambrano said. "I think he thought the pitch would be outside because maybe he saw the catcher's set up. I challenged him, and I got him."
The Cubs poured it on against Fogg, but the bullpen surrendered three home runs in the eighth and ninth innings, forcing Baker to use LaTroy Hawkins to close things out.
With Kyle Farnsworth and Joe Borowski struggling in the last week, Baker doesn't want to overuse Hawkins this early in the season.
Zambrano wound up throwing 117 pitches in six innings, after throwing 109 in seven innings in his first start.
"I knew the wind was blowing out and I tried to be too perfect," Zambrano said. "I threw too many pitches but I always think with the quality bullpen we have I can go five, six or seven innings. Anything besides that is a gift."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times