Game Eighty-Eight – Cubs 3 Nationals 1
WP – Carlos Zambrano (6-4) LP – Craig Stammen (2-5) Save – Kevin Gregg (17)
When Carlos Zambrano hits, Carlos Zambrano wins and it was more of the same on Friday night in the Nation’s Capital. Zambrano struggled with his command, and himself, and was around barely long enough to qualify for the win. Zambrano was not sharp. He threw 40 pitches in the first inning, 19 for strikes … after two Big Z had thrown a total of 58 pitches, 30 for strikes and it was clear that the Cubs’ pen would have a say in the outcome.
Carlos Zambrano settled down and completed five innings. He allowed one unearned run on four hits with four walks and six strikeouts on 113 pitches. Zambrano posted back-to-back wins for the first time since April 28 and May 3.
Zambrano ended up with the game winning RBI once again. Big Z came through with a two-out double in the second inning that plated Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot. The Cubs third run came on the first home run by Aramis Ramirez since May 6 in Houston. Ramirez launched a 1-1 pitch from Greg Stammen over the wall in left. All three of the Cubs runs on Friday night came with two outs. The Cubs had chances to tack on late in the game but came up empty. The offense left five on base and finished the night 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The Cubs defense and bullpen proved to be the difference. Mike Fontenot made a game changing play in the first inning that bailed Carlos Zambrano out of a bases loaded jam. Micah Hoffpauir turned in a tremendous diamond gem to end the third … Hoffpauir reached into the stands and caught a foul ball hit by Willie Harris.
The Cubs’ pen picked up Carlos Zambrano and allowed just two hits over the final four innings. Aaron Heilman sat the Nationals down in order in the sixth. Sean Marshall gave up a hit in his 1 1/3 innings of work with a strikeout and Carlos Marmol picked up his 20th hold of the year by retiring the only two batters he faced in the eighth.
Kevin Gregg surrendered the final hit of the game but struck out two of the four batters he faced to earn the save. The key to the bullpen’s success … no walks.
The Cubs picked up a solid win on the road Friday night … and improved to two games over .500 for the season. It was apparent right off the bat that Carlos Zambrano would not be around for long. Zambrano fell behind most of the hitters he faced in the first inning and issued three of his four walks.
Nyjer Morgan reached on an infield single on the seventh pitch of the at bat … the Nationals only hit of the first inning. With Nick Johnson at the plate, Morgan stole second. Zambrano ended up walking Johnson on the ninth pitch of the at bat.
The Cubs caught a break when Ryan Zimmerman struck out swinging on a 3-2 offering from Big Z. Morgan broke late for third and Koyie Hill threw him out … a strike ’em out, throw ’em out. Zambrano missed on the first three pitches to Adam Dunn then issued ball four intentionally. With runners on first and second with two outs, Josh Willingham stepped to the plate. Willingham reached on an error by Ryan Theriot to load the bases.
Willie Harris just missed a grand slam on a 2-1 pitch but ended up working a walk and forcing in Nick Johnson. With the Nationals up by a 1-0 score and Carlos Zambrano on the ropes, Josh Bard hit a grounder up the middle that Mike Fontenot stopped and tossed to Ryan Theriot to end the inning. Fontenot made a fine diving stop and shoveled the ball from his glove to Theriot to force Willingham for the final out.
Alberto Gonzalez reached on an infield hit to start the second. Craig Stammen attempted to sacrifice him to second but Carlos Zambrano made an excellent play on the bunt and nailed Gonzalez at second. Nyjer Morgan followed with a bloop single to left. Nick Johnson hit a weak grounder to second, Mike Fontenot made the pick and threw to Derrek Lee but both runners advanced on the productive out. Carlos Zambrano struck out Ryan Zimmerman swinging to end the inning.
After two innings, Zambrano had tossed 58 pitches, 30 for strikes.
Big Z retired the Nationals in order in the third thanks to the great catch by Micah Hoffpauir. Zambrano at one point retired seven in a row before issuing a two-out walk to Craig Stammen in the fourth. After another bloop single by Nyjer Morgan to left, Nick Johnson tapped back to Zambrano to end the inning … 99 pitches after four complete.
Zambrano retired the Nationals in order for the second time in the fifth … and struck out Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham to end his night.
The Cubs blew an opportunity in the first inning after a lead off double by Kosuke Fukudome (2-for-4 with a double) and an error by Alberto Gonzalez that allowed Ryan Theriot to reach. Derrek Lee struck out and Aramis Ramirez grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Milton Bradley (1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored) led off the second with a walk. Following a Micah Hoffpauir lineout to right, Mike Fontenot doubled to right on the first pitch from Craig Stammen.
With runners on second and third with one out, Koyie Hill hit a low liner to short and was thrown out at first. Bradley could not score. Carlos Zambrano stepped in and ripped a 0-1 pitch down the right field line. Both Bradley and Fontenot scored easily … 2-1, Cubs.
Aramis Ramirez tacked on the Cubs final run in the third. Ramirez launched a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left with two outs in the third.
The Cubs won back-to-back road games for the first time in over a month (June 7 and June 9) and while it is ‘just the Nationals‘, the Cubs have shown improvement outside of Wrigley Field and that is a big key to the second half.
Ted Lilly was scheduled to make the start on Saturday but due to an injury to his left knee has been pushed to Monday in Philadelphia. Randy Wells will face Jordan Zimmerman on Saturday and Kevin Hart will be recalled to start the finale on Sunday.