CHICAGO (AP) -- Carlos Zambrano delivered a heated first-inning lecture to someone he knew would listen -- himself. Upset after giving up a four-pitch walk to leadoff batter Chris Dickerson, Zambrano calmed down, regrouped and got out of the inning.
The Cubs' ace also overcame a sore tooth and homered on Thursday to finally get his 13th victory as Chicago beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-2.
"I was talking to myself. I told myself, 'Is it that hard to throw strikes? Come on, let's go,' " Zambrano said.
"I would rather have people go out there and hit home runs than walk somebody. I hate walks," he said.
Zambrano (13-5) allowed a run and six hits in seven innings, including a solo homer by Jay Bruce in the sixth. He'd had two no-decisions and a loss in his previous three starts, giving up 17 hits and 15 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings.
A trainer went out to check on Zambrano in the fifth to see how much his tooth was bothering him. Zambrano said he'd chewed too much sugar-laden gum and that's why it was hurting. He planned to have it checked Friday.
Manager Lou Piniella didn't make it as far as the mound before returning to the dugout.
"I went out to the mound many times to check pitcher's injuries but never for a cracked molar. We needed a dentist," Piniella said. "That was a little Cubbie occurrence. ... That was a first for me, first for the umpire."
Zambrano hit his fourth homer of the season -- and the fifth of his career against the Reds -- to put Chicago up 3-0 in the third. It as the second time in the series the Cubs got offense from their starting pitcher. Rich Harden bunted home a run in a 5-0 win Tuesday night.
"I'm 6-foot-5, 200-some pounds," the 255-pound switch-hitting Zambrano said of the power that has seen him hit 16 career homers. "I was able to connect."
The victory extended the Cubs' lead in the NL Central to 5½ games over idle Milwaukee.
The Reds had base runners on in every inning against Zambrano but only broke through on Bruce's 13th homer. Zambrano allowed four walks while striking four.
Cincinnati lost two of three and was 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position in the series.
"We had Zambrano sort of on the ropes early. He wasn't that sharp and he got out of the first with no runs. He had a runner on third with less than two outs. That was really the difference in the ballgame," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
"We held their offense down pretty good too. We played a good series, we just came up a run short of winning the series," he said.
Joey Votto's 15th homer, a towering shot off reliever Carlos Marmol that cleared the right field bleachers in the eighth, brought the Reds within 3-2. Kerry Wood worked a perfect ninth for his 26th save in 31 chances.
Derrek Lee's double-play grounder following a leadoff walk to Alfonso Soriano and single by Ryan Theriot put the Cubs up 1-0 in the first off Josh Fogg (2-6). Mark DeRosa's long homer to left in the second, his 15th of the season, made it 2-0. And Zambrano stretched it to a three-run cushion with his a drive over the wall in right center in the third.
"Carlos is one of those guys who swings the bat like a five or six guy in the lineup, not like a nine-hole guy," Fogg said. "So you make a mistake to him and he makes you pay."
Cincinnati's Corey Patterson drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, but he was quickly thrown out trying to steal. Paul Bako and Dickerson had singles to put runners at first and second, but after a visit to the mound by Piniella, Zambrano got Jeff Keppinger to ground out to end the threat.
Zambrano has also homered five times in his career against the Astros. ... ... Fogg got the start when Aaron Harang was moved back a day because of neck spasms. Harang will start Friday against the Rockies. ... Zambrano ran his record against the Reds to 4-0 this season and 14-9 for his career. ... Votto had three hits and his homer was his seventh of the season against the Cubs.