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The 19 greatest starts in Cubs history, No. 5: Carlos Zambrano, September 14, 2008

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The stars aligned just right for Big Z on this night.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

This is one of the most famous games in recent Cubs history, and I’ve written about it previously here on multiple occasions.

I’ll get to the details of Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter against the Astros at Miller Park in a moment, but first, my personal story of how I came to go to this game. I certainly wasn’t alone in having the idea of heading to Miller Park to see the Cubs play once I found out two of their three-game series scheduled against Houston in Minute Maid Park was going to be moved there. 23,441 paid to see this game, almost all of them Cubs fans.

I knew I wanted to see one of the two games. The first was scheduled for Sunday night, September 14 at 7:05 CT and the second at 1:05 CT Monday, September 15. At the time I was still working the early-morning shift at ABC7. So, my choices were:

  • Go to the Sunday game and get back late and go to work Monday
  • See if I could call my supervisor and get Monday off — I did have some vacation days I could have used

The schedule for these two games wasn’t set until late Saturday. I figured it would be easier to just go Sunday, sleep fast and work Monday, than to try to arrange for Monday off.

And that’s how I wound up seeing my first Cubs no-hitter. (I had previously seen one no-hitter, Jack Morris vs. the White Sox, April 7, 1984.) Tickets weren’t cheap. The Brewers, who handled ticket sales, basically priced them the way they would have priced any game involving the Cubs there in 2008. Which is why this really nice seat cost $60, which was pretty pricey for a baseball game 12 years ago:

Let’s remember one other thing about this game, before I describe what happened. The Astros gave off a put-upon attitude from the time it appeared necessary to move these games out of Houston. While Astros players’ families were being evacuated from the Houston area, owner Drayton McLane was insistent until the last minute that he wanted the Cubs to fly to Houston to play the series there. Only pressure from the Commissioner’s office finally made McLane relent. By then it was too late to play all three games at Miller Park, so just two were scheduled. The third wound up cancelled, so the Cubs and Astros both played just 161 games in 2008.

The persecution complex continued when the Astros arrived at Miller Park. Despite being given the home clubhouse while the Cubs got the visitors’ space, the Astros refused to acknowledge they were the home team. They wore their gray road pants for both games. For both games they gave off the vibe that they didn’t want to be there, and it showed in their performance on the field.

Big Z was dominant from the start of the game. He retired the first 14 Astros until he hit Hunter Pence with a pitch with two out in the fifth. Pence was Houston’s only baserunner, the only thing between Zambrano and a perfect game.

Here are four and a half minutes of highlights from the game [VIDEO].

Some of those are from the Houston broadcast and you can hear current Cubs announcer Jim Deshaies, then an Astros broadcaster, on the call. This game was played on a Sunday night, usually a time when ESPN has an exclusive window for baseball, but both WGN-TV and the Astros broadcast affiliate Fox Sports Houston were granted permission to show the game in their local markets.

Here’s the last out, a strikeout of Darin Erstad (for some reason, there’s no audio on this clip) [VIDEO].

The game ran just 2:17 and thus ended before 9:30. I was home by 11 p.m., not too late considering I’d just gone to a game 90 miles from home.

And one more thing that’s sometimes forgotten about the two Cubs/Astros games at Miller Park: Ted Lilly nearly no-hit the Astros again the next day. He had allowed no hits (and just one walk) through six innings and the Cubs had cruised to an easy 6-0 lead. An error by Aramis Ramirez allowed Reggie Abercrombie to reach base leading off the bottom of the seventh and Mark Loretta followed with a single. The Astros scored a run the next inning on a pair of walks, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. The Cubs won the combined one-hitter 6-1.

That created this bit of major-league history:

The Cubs became the first team in major league history to throw a no-hitter and one-hitter in back-to-back games.

They’re still the only team to accomplish that feat.

These games and the rest of that regular season, a year that produced 97 wins, most for a Cubs team since 1945, gave us great hope that the Cubs would break the World Series drought on its 100th anniversary. As you know, that didn’t happen, but the 2008 regular season is one I’ll always remember fondly, and a highlight was Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter, the first for a Cub in 36 years.