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Cubs give Zambrano just enough support in return
Once upon a time they were natural-born enemies in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, a couple of strong-headed personalities who epitomized the character of their respective organizations.
But Carlos Zambrano and Jim Edmonds shared center stage for the Cubs on Friday night at Busch Stadium, both making comebacks in another wild game between the two long-standing foes.
After Edmonds got the night rolling with some pregame shots at his former manager, Tony La Russa, before his long-awaited return to St. Louis, Zambrano threw six shutout innings in his first game off the disabled list to lead the Cubs to a 2-1 victory.
"After being out of the rotation two weeks, your stuff is not going to be that sharp," catcher Geovany Soto said. "But it really was. I think it was better than before he got hurt."
Soto and Kosuke Fukudome homered off Braden Looper to pace the Cubs' offense, which did just enough on a perfectly cool 4th of July evening.
As the fireworks show at the Arch was on display over the right-field bleachers, Kerry Wood pitched a scoreless ninth to notch his 22nd save.
"I've never seen [fireworks] in the bottom half of the ninth inning," manager Lou Piniella said. "It had to be a little distracting to the players out there."
Even more distracted was La Russa, who was upset with what he believed was plate umpire Ted Barrett's generous strike zone for Wood, particularly on two called strikes that sent Troy Glaus to the bench fuming. Wood ended things with the tying run on first when Ryan Ludwick grounded out, increasing the Cubs' National League Central lead to 31/2 games.
While Edmonds went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts after receiving a warm welcome, Zambrano fared much better in his return from his first DL stint since 2002. With a 9-3 record, Zambrano has a shot at making the All-Star team, which will be announced Sunday.
"There are some better pitchers who have better numbers who can help the National League," he said. "Believe me, I'll go to Venezuela … spend some time with my daughter, my mom and my family. I've been in two All-Star Games. It's good if I go. If I don't go, it's OK."
Zambrano looked a lot like the Zambrano of old, shrugging off his shoulder issues while allowing four singles—including two infield hits—during an 87-pitch outing. His velocity averaged between 92 and 94 m.p.h., and his slider and split-fingered fastball were effective all night.
"Zambrano did exactly what we needed him to do," Piniella said.
Before the game, Piniella had noted the Cubs' pitching had gone from first to fourth in the National League with Zambrano on the DL.
"We'll see if it's just a coincidence," he said. "I'm hoping he'll come in and help to stabilize things."
Zambrano got into trouble with a 2-0 lead in the sixth, allowing an infield hit to Albert Pujols before walking Rick Ankiel on four pitches. Piniella got his bullpen going, but Zambrano quickly regrouped. He retired Glaus on a foul pop-up and got Chris Duncan to hit into a force play to end the inning.
Pujols hit his 300th career homer off Bob Howry in the eighth, becoming at 27 the fifth-youngest player to reach that mark. But Wood came on in the ninth to end it, with fireworks exploding.
Piniella leaned back in his chair afterward, enjoying the moment after a long trip from San Francisco.
"And I'm going to have a nice beer for the 4th of July," he said.