Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 10:24 p.m. Updated: 11:48 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
HOUSTON Carlos Zambrano already started walking several steps off the mound before Mike Quade could get there. It looked like a power play, the pitcher handing his manager the ball on the infield grass on the way to the dugout.
This is what makes Zambrano so unpredictable. This is what tests the organizations patience. It was all there for everyone to see on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. Except Zambrano, who didnt even realize what he just did.
Zambrano was so caught up in an inning spinning out of control that Kerry Wood had to point it out to him. Zambrano watched the replay and felt compelled to go over to the Cubs managers office and apologize to Quade after a 9-5 win over the Houston Astros.
I didnt mean that, Zambrano said. Believe me, the last thing that I want to do this year is disrespect the manager.
Zambrano showed his entire range in the sixth inning. It started with the home run he crushed off the faade in left-center field, some 412 feet away. He pointed up at the black sky as he crossed home plate.
To that point, Zambrano had thrown five scoreless innings. His teammates had given him a 5-0 lead before he threw a single pitch.
Yet when Brett Wallace singled a 3-2 pitch into left field to make it a 6-2 game, Zambrano immediately gestured toward home plate, kicked at the rubber and snapped the ball when it was flipped back to him.
Once Matt Downs hammered another 3-2 pitch beyond the high wall in left-center field for a two-run homer, the Astros had sliced the deficit to one. Zambrano walked one more batter and that was it.
During Game 161 last season in Houston, Zambrano turned away from Quade when he handed the ball to his manager and sulked off the mound. Quade defused that situation and did the same late Wednesday night.
I didnt get there quick enough, Quade said. He was ready to go and I should have been sprinting there. Just hand me the ball. Just dont drop the ball. (I) dont really care. I was hoping he wouldnt run me over.
Look, he was upset. I was upset. Everybodys upset. Lets just have a nice exchange. Lets not fumble the handoff and itll be ok. Lets hope were better next time.
Within the past week, Zambrano suddenly looked more reliable with the Cubs rotation down two pitchers. The Cubs dont yet know what theyre going to do with the fifth starters slot next week.
Jeff Samardzija, who threw three innings out of the bullpen on Tuesday night, became an option for a spot start, and so is James Russell or someone outside the 25-man roster. But long-term the Cubs see Samardzija as a reliever and dont want to mess too much with his role yet again.
Given all that uncertainty, the Cubs will need Zambrano (2-0, 6.11 ERA) to keep everything in check.
Zambrano was gracious when Quade named Ryan Dempster the Opening Day starter and didnt take it as a snub.
The past few days you could see Zambrano salsa dancing in the clubhouse or cracking up on the couch watching Eastbound & Down with his teammates.
Zambrano was almost becoming boring in his postgame news conferences. Whether or not you believe in a new Zambrano, he quickly took responsibility for his actions.
Q is a great guy, Zambrano said. It was my mistake. I think next time I will wait (longer). In fact, next time I will wait for the reliever, too. Theres no problem.
The Cubs (6-6) have a strong sense of team and would probably want you to focus elsewhere. The top of the lineup looks like it could be here to stay. Starlin Castro (.389) and Darwin Barney (.345) combined for eight hits and seven runs this series.
Alfonso Soriano hit his fourth home run of the season. Jeff Baker continues to mash left-handed pitching. The bullpen Marcos Mateo, Sean Marshall, Wood and Carlos Marmol did not allow a run or a hit in 3 13 innings.
The club picked up Z, Quade said.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.