Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010
Updated 12:34 AM
By Patrick Mooney
ST. LOUIS There was Carlos Zambrano sitting with his teammates, laughing at the Ace Ventura movie playing in the clubhouse. And there was Zambrano dancing by his locker, singing a Bob Marley song.
No one knows for certain if this peace will last, or if the suspension and anger-management counseling he received will become a turning point in his career. But hes already thinking about the end.
Just as Zambranos again performing like the elite pitcher the Cubs thought he would be, he again talked about retirement after Wednesdays 7-3 victory over the Cardinals, which capped their first three-game sweep in St. Louis in more than 22 years.
This will be my last contract. I dont think I will be playing anymore (after that), Zambrano said. Life is short, believe me, and sometimes you miss very important people, like my daughter.
Sometimes you miss things in life because of baseball you shouldnt miss. I want to be there for my daughter. I dont want anything to happen, especially in my family. Baseball, believe me, takes a lot of time from us.
Zambrano made similar noise about walking away from the game after earning his 100th win last year in Cincinnati. The 29-year-old has two more seasons guaranteed on his 91.5 million deal, plus a vesting player option for 2013 that is dependent upon where he finishes in the Cy Young voting the next two seasons.
It appeared completely out of reach when Zambrano was sent to the bullpen early in the season, and after he got in Derrek Lees face on June 25 and alienated himself from his teammates.
But Zambrano is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his seven starts since rejoining the rotation, which is what the Cubs thought they were paying for when he signed that big contract in August 2007.
Theres a calmness right now, manager Mike Quade said. He seems in charge both on the mound and off the mound. He pitches with emotion you know that. But hes just handling things as well as Ive seen. Instead of trying to figure out why, I just tip my hat and say, Good for you.
Three nights at Busch Stadium and the Cubs (65-81) beat a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate (Jamie Garcia), a 2010 All-Star (Adam Wainwright) and a Cy Young Award winner (Chris Carpenter).
Zambrano pitched better than them all in front of the 41,145 fans who watched playoff hopes vanish for the Cardinals (74-70).
Zambrano went six innings and allowed two runs one earned on a night where he saw his velocity at 88, 89 mph on the radar gun. He was mixing his slider and curveball, showing he can get outs without blowing the ball by hitters.
You roll along with a career for five, six, seven years, Quade said, and all of a sudden things get a little tough. You got adjustments to make if you want to keep playing.
Zambrano said he was serious about the retirement promise. He was philosophical about how different his season might have been if the Cubs didnt try to convert him into an eighth-inning reliever, saying things happen for a reason.
And he seemed reflective when he had to leave the team last month to visit his nephew in intensive care at a hospital back home in Venezuela.
Zambrano took his time before meeting with the media late Wednesday night, but every five days he always seems to have something interesting to say. "My agent always tells me Im unique," he said as postgame interview ended, and theres no arguing that point.
I want to enjoy the game as much as I can the next two, three years on my contract, Zambrano said. A friend of mine one time told me that any time Im batting, I look excited, I look happier than when Im pitching. I want to mix it up. (I) want to have the same joy, the same motivation I have when Im hitting.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.