Whether it was the start of a new, laid-back version of Zambrano is unclear. The Cubs still contend they need to let Carlos be Carlos.
"He still has to be himself," manager Dusty Baker said. "He has gotten better, but he's still going to have outbursts. If you have a bad temper, it's going to come up sometime."
The Cubs stranded 15 men, but still won for the ninth time in 12 games, thanks in part to the last of Cincinnati's three errors on Neifi Perez's sacrifice attempt in the 10th.
"I'll take a sloppy win," Baker said. "A win's a win."
Zambrano lasted only six innings, allowing three runs on three hits and three walks while striking out nine in a 115-pitch performance. In his last start, Zambrano threw a tantrum behind home plate on a play where rookie outfielder Matt Murton threw to second base instead of home, allowing a run to score on a sacrifice fly.
Zambrano apologized to Murton afterward, and Murton responded Tuesday with three hits, including an RBI triple in the second and the rally-starting single in the 10th. Murton is hitting .354 in limited playing time, but he will be getting more in the final 17 games with Corey Patterson slumping badly.
Baker insisted he always has been high on Murton's ability, despite the lack of at-bats he has received.
"I've had my eyes opened about Murton," Baker said. "I don't brag right away or jump on any bandwagons. He opened my eyes from the beginning."
Zambrano opened some eyes when he confronted Kulpa after ending the fourth. He later said Kulpa misunderstood his body language on the mound after an errant slider, believing Zambrano was upset about the call and was showing him up.
"I told him I was mad at myself," Zambrano said. "I told him if I have something to say to him, I'll go straight to him. I was not trying to show [him up]. I was trying to explain it."
Is Zambrano's bad temper a problem the Cubs have to cure?
"He has to cure it," Baker said. "When you get upset and you have an outburst, it's not a premeditated, planned thing. . . . And it's not like [I'm] there every minute to put [my] hand over his mouth or put his arm down by his side. The key is that he realized he made a mistake and he admitted it and apologized for it. That's the big thing.
"A lot of guys who would do that that I played with, they would have said nothing, which fostered bad feeling sometimes on the team. But the sooner you can apologize, the sooner you can settle things. He has come a long way. Just think about where he came from last year to this year.
"But you don't want to take that away from him completely because that's part of his competitiveness and drive. It's all this energy. We have to find a way to harness it and put it in a positive direction."
The Cubs seemingly are going in a positive direction, although it's a little too late to make a difference.