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No-hitter for Cubs' Zambrano

September 15, 2008|Paul Sullivan | Chicago Tribune

MILWAUKEE -- Bernie Brewer wasn't at Miller Park on Sunday night, and the famous racing sausages decided to sit this one out too.

But the pro-Cubs crowd of 23,441 who showed up for the first makeup game of the hurricane-affected series between the Cubs and Houston got a chance to watch Carlos Zambrano make history.

Zambrano threw the Cubs' first no-hitter in 36 years in a 5-0 victory, stunning the Astros and making a triumphant return to the mound after an 11-day layoff since his last start.

"I guess I'm back," Zambrano said. "My arm is back. It's good."

Said Cubs Manager Lou Piniella: "He was throwing the ball well, and got some good work in this week, but you don't expect a masterpiece like this."

He became the 13th Cub since 1880 to throw a no-hit game and the first since Milt Pappas did it on Sept. 2, 1972, when he beat San Diego, 8-0, at Wrigley Field.

No one could have predicted Zambrano would dominate a red-hot Astros team in such fashion after he had won only once since August and had suffered from shoulder problems that forced him to miss a start.

But Zambrano was untouchable on this remarkable night, allowing only two balls to leave the infield while improving to 14-5.

Entering the ninth having thrown only 99 pitches, Zambrano was still on fire. Humberto Quintero grounded out to short on the first pitch, and pinch-hitter Jose Castillo followed with another grounder to Ryan Theriot.

Zambrano fell behind Darin Erstad 2-0 but got a called strike and a foul ball before bouncing a pitch to make it a full count. He got Erstad to chase a pitch out of the zone for strike three, falling down on one knee and raising his arms in the air as his teammates mobbed him.

The Cubs moved 7 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee in the National League Central after the Brewers were swept in Philadelphia, allowing the Phillies to move into a tie for the wild-card lead.

Alfonso Soriano homered off Astros left-hander Randy Wolf on the third pitch of the game, setting the tone. Derrek Lee added a two-run double as the Cubs batted around in a four-run third, breaking the game open and turning the spotlight over to Zambrano, who lives for being the center of attention.

With his fastball hitting 97 mph for the first time in months and with a great bite on his curveball, Zambrano managed to dismiss any remaining concerns that his shoulder would prevent him from dominating down the stretch and in the postseason.

How did he hit those speeds after not throwing that hard since early in the season?

"I don't know, man, my arm is weird, for real," Zambrano said. "Sometimes I give all I have in my arm. I even go back and try to throw harder and I just see 92, 93. And sometimes I just kind of play catch with [catcher Geovany Soto] and see the scoreboard and it's 97, 98."

Zambrano's closest no-hit encounter before Sunday was on Aug. 22, 2003, when he pitched seven no-hit innings in Arizona.

On Sunday, he did not allow a batter to reach until walking Michael Bourn with one out in the fourth.

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