ST. LOUIS—Nomar Garciaparra was all smiles before Wednesday night's game in Busch Stadium, seemingly relaxed and happy in spite of a rough start to his 2005 season.
But Garciaparra's season hit a low point in the Cubs' 3-1 victory over St. Louis when he collapsed with a groin injury while exiting the batter's box in the third inning.
Garciaparra was carried off the field and could miss a month or more while he's on the mend, pending the outcome of an MRI on Thursday in St. Louis. Though he was able to hobble after the game, the possibility of a torn groin was on everyone's mind. That would mean several months of rehab.
"That's my fear," Garciaparra said. "I'll know more [Thursday]. I can't give you a prognosis right now. . . . But I don't like getting carried off the field first of all. That drives you crazy."
The loss of Garciaparra overshadowed a strong outing by starter Carlos Zambrano, who rebounded from a subpar Saturday start when he served up three home runs in Pittsburgh. The right-hander was back to his old self against St. Louis, allowing one run on five hits in 8 2/3 innings, throwing 118 pitches.
Zambrano was removed with two outs in the ninth after trainer Mark O'Neal visited the mound to check out a blister. LaTroy Hawkins entered and gave up a warning-track flyout to John Mabry to end it.
"I wanted to finish it," Zambrano said. "But I had a blister, so that was the right decision for the manager."
Derrek Lee went 3-for-4 to increase his average to .411, and Zambrano helped his cause with a run-scoring triple in the second, a line shot that got past center fielder Jim Edmonds and rolled toward the wall. Like a runaway train with no brakes, Zambrano ran so hard he overshot the bag at third, declining to make his patented headfirst slide.
The Cubs took advantage of Mabry's poor play in left to grab the lead in the first inning, the third straight game they've been on the board in the first. Neifi Perez reached on Mabry's error and was erased on a Lee forceout. But Aramis Ramirez walked and Jeromy Burnitz's two-out single off Jeff Suppan brought home Lee with the first run.
Zambrano's RBI triple made it 2-0 in the second and Ramirez's run-scoring double in the fifth gave Zambrano some room to maneuver.
The Cardinals got Zambrano so upset last year he was suspended for five games for throwing at Edmonds on July 19. Seemingly on a mission to make amends for that day, Zambrano allowed only one hit through the first five innings, David Eckstein's harmless single in the third.
"Whatever is in the past is in the past," Zambrano said. "I don't have anything against Edmonds, and hopefully he doesn't have anything against me. That's baseball. I don't pay attention to anything else but pitching my game."
Albert Pujols snapped Zambrano's shutout with a two-out home run to left in the sixth, but Zambrano wasn't about to let this one get away. After giving up a single to Edmonds, he retired nine straight before Scott Rolen doubled with two outs in the ninth, ending his day.
A boisterous crowd of 44,855 showed up despite early evening showers that delayed the game by about 1 1/2 hours, signaling the start of the 113th year of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.
The Cubs were happy with the victory but concerned over the status of Garciaparra. Though Garciaparra was struggling through one of the worst slumps of his career, his loss was difficult for the Cubs to swallow, especially after losing starting second baseman Todd Walker with a knee injury on April 10. Until further notice, the new double-play combo will be Neifi Perez at short and Jerry Hairston at second.
"It's not going to be easy," Baker said. "But we still have to find a way. Just like last year. Nobody's going to give us any consolation."