Thursday, April 13, 2006

zambrano unhinged

the rubber match of the series took a star-crossed turn as early as the publication of the lineups about an hour before game time today. with aramis ramirez and jacque jones still out injured -- both are rumored to be on the mend for this weekend -- dusty baker's options were somewhat more limited than usual.

how limited? observe:

  • cf pierre

  • 2b hairston

  • 1b lee

  • lf murton

  • rf pagan

  • ss cedeno

  • 3b neifi

  • c blanco

  • p zambrano

  • not as limited as this, this page would suggest, with michael barrett being given an off day in favor of zambrano's preferred catcher and todd walker sitting against lefty cincinnati starter eric milton. this configuration sent this writer into the dustbin to try to find other challenged lineups from recent history -- but hope remained nonetheless with carlos zambrano on the mound.

    however, as you might have guessed from the title, dear reader, things didn't quite turn out that way. zambrano was posessed of electrifying stuff early, chalking three backward k's in the first two innings. but adam dunn (already with five homers this young season) touched him up in the first to put the reds ahead.

    but the away half of the third put zambrano's maturity issues on display once again, much as with last week's start at cincinnati. a leadoff walk to eighth-place hitter david ross was mitigated when zambrano cut him down on milton's attempted sacrifice. but zambrano, seeming agitated and distracted, immediately balked milton into scoring position. rattled, zambrano hit ryan freel with the next pitch and promptly served up a three-run homer to felipe lopez to put the cubs down 4-0. zambrano was extremely animated throughout.

    zambrano appeared to settle down somewhat following that release of angry tension, but in the fifth flared up again. with one out, milton tripled into the rightfield gap -- again taking advantage of the cubs' weak outfield arms for an extra base. a clearly frustrated zambrano then did something no professional pitcher should -- with milton less than two feet off third base, he made a pointless snap throw to the bag. the throw sailed into the stands, sending milton home. all the theatricals amounted to a lot of work for zambrano, who exited having thrown 103 pitches in six innings -- and still, no cub starter has worked deeper than six and a third.

    this page has spoken before about how the cubs under dusty baker have been a team lacking discipline and leadership. many players love to play for him because he supports the player no matter what they do and rarely speaks a contrary word to them. but that can be unfortunate for young players -- such as korey patterson, who never appeared to be anything so much as completely adrift -- and is seems as though it is allowing zambrano to indulge the worst aspects of his nature on the field without check. at no point in zambrano's fits did baker visit the mound. the assumption in the dugout seems to be that zambrano is a man and can sort himself out. this page would have more confidence in that assessment if it more often appeared to be true -- but instead, as bruce springsteen once said of rock stars by way of explaining some past transgressions, it seems that zambrano has been "afforded the luxury of an extended adolescence."

    the cubs scratched back in the fifth behind a leadoff single by blanco and another single by zambrano. juan pierre sacrificed them over neatly. jerry hairston put together a wonderful eight-pitch at-bat, but could only manage a flyball to shallow left. derrek lee was walked -- as he was, predictably in this lineup, three times today -- to fill the bases with two away for matt murton. the cub leftfielder had homered in the fourth for the first cub run, and managed a single to left, which dunn misplayed to allow zambrano to score from second, making it 5-3 cubs. angel pagan then popped out to end the threat.

    but the cub bullpen, which has pitched quite well through the early going of this season, faltered in the eighth when will ohman walked dunn and allowed a single to scott hatteberg while recording two outs. with austin kearns at the plate, baker brought on righthander bob howry -- whose first pitch was taken out of the park to seal the northsiders' fate at 8-3.

    this chicago club is still at five wins and three losses, but now faces a nine-game continental-criss-crossing road trip to pittsburgh, los angeles and saint louis with only a single travel day (the 20th). april is the cruelest month -- the woes of a disabled pitching staff and airport fatigue figure to make this next ten days an early test of this team's stamina and character. here's hoping they're up to it.

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