I have been, at times, the leader of the "Trade Zambrano" bandwagon. I did so after the Z - Michael Barrett dustup in 2007, and I told him to "grow up" after the memorable meltdown with umpire Mark Carlson last May.
But there is no doubt that Z is among the most talented pitchers in baseball, and he showed every bit of that talent in shutting out the Giants 3-0 on two hits. In addition to outstanding pitching -- throwing 67 strikes in 98 pitches and allowing just two singles, one by Juan Uribe and another by Tim Lincecum, and issuing a walk to Randy Winn -- Z drove in two of the three Cubs runs, the first by beating a double-play relay throw, and the second with a double to the base of the wall in left field.
Really, what more can you ask of a pitcher? Z took that intensity that we often have seen explode in histrionics and focused every bit of it on his pitching. If we knew that intensity could be that channeled in every single start, not one of us would be asking for him to be sent away (I've even heard a rumor of a "challenge trade" where he'd be sent to the White Sox for Jake Peavy).
And on a night when the start of the game was delayed about five minutes while the Giants presented their annual "Willie Mac" award for community service to Matt Cain (and emcee Mike Krukow gave a shout-out to Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly, who won the award while playing for the Giants in 1984), Z and the Cubs accomplished all this in one hour and fifty-six minutes, the first nine-inning Cubs game finished in less than two hours in more than three years, since April 17, 2006, a 4-1 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
With Aramis Ramirez still nursing a sore shoulder (Lou didn't want to play him on another chilly night in San Francisco) and Derrek Lee having a bit of a recurrence of his neck problems after an awkward slide stealing his first base of the year and then getting slapped on his helmet by Angel Guzman in the celebration following Jeff Baker's homer (D-Lee says he doesn't blame Guzman and will be back today), the Cubs put another spring-training-like lineup on the field last night, with Baker hitting cleanup and Bobby Scales again in left field. Scales played a competent LF in windy [Phone Holding Company] Park, and Baker drew two walks off Lincecum.
Sam Fuld had three hits, and Len Kasper pointed out during the game that he had singled off two Cy Young winners (Lincecum and Randy Johnson) in the same game. Wonder when that has happened before? The Cubs even scored a run off Johnson, something they've had trouble doing during the Big Unit's long and distinguished career.
But the star of the game was Z, who now has the only two complete-game shutouts for a Cubs pitcher since Jason Marquis threw a three-hitter vs. the Pirates on May 9, 2007. Z was, in many ways, just as dominant than during his no-hitter last September 14. Though he gave up the two singles, he threw fewer pitches and had Giants hitters flailing away at a devastating slider -- seven of the nine K's were swinging.
Keep up the good work, Z, and we'll be thrilled to see you retire as a Cub. And one more thing about recent Cubs baseball: I think I've enjoyed watching them play this week more than at any time all season. The 5-1 record posted since Sunday has included some fine play by just about everyone, and even the one loss was played well. Too bad we had to wait so long.
Finally, there were a lot more excellent entries in last night's photo caption contest. There were two who played off the "Dancing With The Stars" angle, but the winner is going to be the one who posted it first (by time stamp); that would be lohroffc, who posted, simply:
Fukudome and Velez audition for Dancing with the Stars.
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