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Cubs finally polish off Zambrano gem
Carlos Zambrano had no-hit stuff Tuesday night in Los Angeles, holding the Dodgers to one bloop double and striking out nine in a dominating eight-inning outing.
But the Cubs' offense was shut down by Los Angeles starter Brad Penny, leaving Zambrano with a no-decision in a 2-1, 10-inning win over the Dodgers.
The win was the season-high fifth straight for the Cubs, who moved to two games over .500 for the first time since going 12-10 on April 29.
After being stymied by Dodgers pitching over the first nine innings, Michael Barrett led off the 10th with a pinch single against reliever Yhency Brazoban. After being sacrificed to second, Barrett scored when Neifi Perez dumped a single into left.
Though Barrett stopped after rounding third, left fielder Ricky Ledee let the ball get past him for an error, allowing the go-ahead run to come home.
Ryan Dempster made things interesting to start the 10th by drilling Antonio Perez in the head on a 2-2 pitch. Hee Seop Choi's sacrifice bunt moved Perez to second, where he was stranded after Dempster retired Mike Rose and pinch-hitter Olmedo Saenz to convert his sixth straight save.
Zambrano allowed one unearned run in a 123-pitch outing, and only six balls left the infield.
"He was nasty," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "When I went out to make a double-switch (in the ninth inning), the umpire (Ed Rapuano) told me, 'He pitched a heck of a game.' That he did."
"Every pitch is working for me right now," Zambrano said. "When you feel like that, you're going to have a good game. I did my job, pitching eight innings. The most important thing is, we won the game."
Zambrano's sterling effort was a virtual replica of his May 21 start against the White Sox, when he threw seven shutout innings while allowing only one hit. He came out of that game with a 1-0 lead, only to watch the bullpen blow it in a 5-3 Cubs loss.
Despite pitching well for the most part, Zambrano has won only once in his last seven starts since April 26, a 2-1 win over Philadelphia on May 8 in which he stuck around for the finish, throwing 136 pitches. In that seven-game span, the Cubs have scored only 10 runs when Zambrano was on the mound.
"He's tough," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said of Zambrano. "I mean, you hear a lot of talk about Kerry Wood and Mark Prior -- and rightfully so -- but this guy doesn't have to take a back seat to anyone. He is, in my opinion, one of the better guys in our league."
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead off Penny in the second when Aramis Ramirez singled and Jason Dubois doubled with one out. Henry Blanco's run-scoring grounder to third brought home Ramirez to give Zambrano a brief lead.
Los Angeles tied it on an unusual rally in the third, an inning that began with Choi reaching on a strikeout when Blanco let the chest-high fastball get past him and roll to the backstop.
Two outs later, Cesar Izturis blooped one into short left field and reached when Dubois unsuccessfully attempted to make a sliding catch. Corey Patterson retrieved the ball after it skidded past Dubois and made an errant throw to the left of home plate as Choi scored from first, allowing Izturis to take third on the error.
"The ball was hit at a time of day where it's tough to see out there," Baker said. "He could have had a no-hitter except for that one play."
Dubois and Perez agreed.
"We really didn't get a good read off the bat," Dubois said. "The ball was over Neifi's head. Me and (center fielder) Corey (Patterson), we didn't see it.'
Perez said he got a good jump, but lost the ball in the twilight.
The Cubs failed to make the most of what few scoring opportunities they had against Penny and Eric Gagne. After Derrek Lee's one-out double in the sixth, Izturis made a fine play on Jeromy Burnitz, going past second and making an off-balance throw to first for the second out. Ramirez then grounded out, ending the threat.
Patterson led off the Cubs' seventh with a broken-bat single to center but was wiped out on a double play when Dubois struck out swinging and was called for interference on catcher Rose's errant throw to second.
Plate umpire Ed Rapuano claimed Dubois stepped into Rose, and Cubs manager Dusty Baker argued to no avail.
Penny allowed six hits and one run in a season-high eight innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter. He walked none, struck out three and threw 108 pitches.
"It's fun to pitch games like that," Penny said. "You want to go out and show you can beat these guys. Any time you get a chance to pitch against a guy like (Zambrano), the caliber of pitcher he is, you've got to be on top of your game."
The Los Angeles Times and Associated Press contributed to this report.