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Zambrano fails to deliver the goods
It might be too early to be concerned, but the Cubs already are visibly distressed over losing games that appeared to be in their control.
Manager Dusty Baker shook his head repeatedly while sitting at the desk in his office Friday night after the Cubs' 8-5 loss to Pittsburgh, muttering about another missed opportunity.
Over in the Cubs' clubhouse, Carlos Zambrano was speechless for perhaps the first time.
"I'm so [ticked] off," he said, declining to talk with reporters. "I don't want to say something wrong."
Everything that could go wrong did for the Cubs on a chilly night at PNC Park. They couldn't hold off the weak-hitting Pirates, who entered the game with a .241 average, repeatedly letting them back in the game.
Ex-Cub Bobby Hill's two-run single off Chad Fox in the eighth inning broke a 5-5 tie, and the Pirates added another run to put the game out of reach.
Zambrano, coming off 71/3 innings of one-hit, scoreless pitching against Milwaukee, was his own worst enemy Friday. He served up three home runs in six-plus innings, allowing five runs on six hits before leaving with a 5-4 lead and the tying run on second.
"Every time we scored, they scored," Baker said. "And they haven't been scoring, which makes it tough."
The Cubs have lost the opening game of their last three series, after beating Arizona 16-6 in the season opener. Starters Zambrano, Kerry Wood and Greg Maddux have combined to serve up 11 home runs in their seven starts, suggesting they're still working out the kinks from spring training.
Baker filled his lineup up with right-handed hitters against Pittsburgh left-hander Oliver Perez, putting Todd Hollandsworth and Corey Patterson on the bench. That move paid immediate dividends in the second when Jason Dubois hit a two-run homer just inside the right-field foul pole, giving the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
But Zambrano served up a two-run, opposite-field home run to catcher David Ross in the bottom of the second, starting an ominous trend: Every time the Cubs scored for Zambrano, he'd get nicked up.
Neifi Perez's two-run shot inside the left-field foul pole in the fifth put the Cubs back on top 4-2 before Ross connected again off Zambrano in the bottom of the fifth to cut the deficit to one.
Matt Lawton misplayed Jeromy Burnitz's sinking line drive into a triple in the sixth, and the Cubs added another run on Michael Barrett's sacrifice fly. But Rob Mackowiak, a big-time nemesis of the Cubs in 2004, homered off Zambrano in the bottom of the sixth to make it a one-run game again at 5-4.
Zambrano was removed after a leadoff double by Hill in the seventh, and watched his chance at victory disappear when Lawton drove in the tying run from third with a one-out single off Mike Remlinger (0-1).
Zambrano's earned-run average climbed to 4.00 in his second poor outing in three starts.
"He threw good enough to win, but when he made a pitch in a wrong location, they didn't miss," Baker said.
Remlinger gave up a single to Mackowiak to start the eighth, and was removed after Darryl Ward's double put runners on second and third with no outs. Fox retired the first batter he faced, and Baker opted to pitch to Hill rather than intentionally walk him to set up a possible force with Ross at the plate.
"Fox has been tough on lefties his whole career," Baker said.
But Hill promptly singled up the middle to bring home two runs. "It feels good," Hill said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you guys it's no big deal."