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Dear Carlos: All Is Forgiven. Love, Cubs Fans

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OK, maybe that's a little over-the-top after I, and others, suggested that Carlos Zambrano had to be shipped out of town post-haste after his fight ten days ago with Michael Barrett.

But if he keeps pitching the way he did tonight, dispatching the Astros 2-1 in swift fashion, two hours and six minutes, he's got to be kept around, at least till this season takes more form and we get closer to the trading deadline.

The Z we saw tonight was the one we've known as one of the most dominant starters of the last several seasons; arm slot normal, he was hitting 96+ consistently on the radar gun, threw strikes (79 of 128 pitches) and hit a home run to boot; the latter provided the margin of victory, after a Mike Fontenot throwing error gave the Astros brief hope in closing the margin to 2-1. Fontenot's DP partner Ryan Theriot (the two weretogether again as a DP combination, as they were for LSU's 2000 College World Series team) pulled off a slick double play to end the game, played as if the Cubs were tired from traveling and the Astros had a plane to catch, on a day that was about fifty degrees warmer than the April 11 snowout date on which this game was originally scheduled to be played.

Oh, yeah. That's actually what happened; Houston, having been here for three days playing the White Sox, might have been anxious to not have to get in at 4 am tonight flying home to Houston to play the A's tomorrow, as the Cubs did last night returning from Atlanta, played quickly on both sides of the ball. As Mike reminded me:

... this is the first time that the same team has played both Chicago teams on consecutive days...

For whatever that's worth.

If you think the Cubs and Astros have travel follies this week, consider the Seattle Mariners, who had to make up their own snowout from April today in Cleveland, forcing them to fly from San Diego to Cleveland last night, then on to Chicago tonight to face the Cubs tomorrow.

It was, indeed, vintage Z. His opposite-field home run was the 12th of his career, tying Charlie Root for second place among all Cub pitchers. Claude Passeau is first with thirteen, so that number is in range for Z -- if he stays here long enough.

Keep throwing the way you did tonight, Z, with purpose and focus, and we'll ALL want you to stay for a very long time.

This game wasn't a sellout, and the Cubs passed around some discount codes that allowed a lot of people to see the game for half price; that and the nice weather (75 degrees, clear skies, light winds) brought 37,947 to the ballpark tonight (and it looked like pretty much all of that announced crowd was there). The Cubs played well on all sides of the ball tonight -- good defense in the infield, turning two important double plays, a nice catch on a long fly ball by Alfonso Soriano in the 8th after Houston's lone run had scored, and eight strikeouts by Z. It's nice to get a win on a night when the first five hitters in the lineup combined to go 0-for-14 with two walks, and get offensive contributions from Z, Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot (who now pulls back to within two RBI of Soriano in the big RBI race between them, 20 to 22). This is the way you can build a real team.

They'll need to over the next ten days -- as I think most of us expected, Aramis Ramirez was placed on the 15-day DL today, retroactive to last Thursday, with Cliff Floyd being activated from the DL. Ramirez can come back June 22 vs. the White Sox, and perhaps might serve as the DH that weekend if his sore knee isn't well enough to play the field. Fortunately, unlike last year, the Cubs actually have a player in Mark DeRosa who can play a competent third base and still hit a little bit. This means that Fontenot and Theriot will likely be the DP combination for a few days -- again, a far cry from the Womacks and Maciases and Perezes and Cedenos who occupied those positions a year ago. I'm pretty impressed with Fontenot, who has hit well since his recall, and hit with power, unexpectedly from a guy his size (5-8, 160).

Onward. The Mariners and Ichiro make their first-ever visit to Wrigley Field starting tomorrow. Seattle's had a surprisingly good start to the season, and I don't want the Cubs to think this club is an easy mark just because their expected pitching rotation for the series (Washburn, Batista, Weaver) isn't that intimidating.

This division is still winnable. Have faith. 100 games remain. Win 60 of them -- that'd make a record of 88-74, and I think the Cubs can go 60-40 -- and in the Comedy Central, that might just be enough.