The Chicago Cubs' excitable right-hander never got the chance, because Ethier missed his first game of the season with an inflamed left elbow. As a result, Zambrano dominated the Los Angeles Dodgers for eight innings in a 5-1 victory Wednesday.
"Sometimes you don't want to face [Ethier] when he's hot and he has a streak like that," Zambrano said with a laugh. "He can hit anything. You throw it down to him, he hits it. You throw it inside to him, he hits it. Outside, up, away -- I mean, he's in a zone. But as a competitor, I like to be challenged all the time. I was surprised when they told me he wasn't in the lineup today."
Ethier, who has seven hits in 16 career at-bats against Zambrano including a home run, remained two games shy of the longest streak in Dodgers history that was set by Willie Davis in 1969.
"It's been sore for the last couple of days," Ethier said. "It's more tender on the throwing than the swinging. After I take five or six hacks, it loosens up pretty nicely. But throwing, it's still kind of sore.
"I was prepared to go up there and have a last-inning at-bat today, if that's what the case was, and put it all on the line for one at-bat to get a hit," Ethier said. "I'm not frustrated because I couldn't keep the streak going today. I'm frustrated because we lost four of six on an important homestand where we were trying to catch our breath after getting off to a tough opening month. That's not a good sign."
Zambrano (4-1) outpitched former teammate Ted Lilly, allowing a run and five hits while striking out four and walking one.
"I was just trying to do my job and pitch my game," Zambrano said after winning his 10th straight road decision. "My delivery was nice and easy today, and when it got to the plate, it was exploding."
The only run against him came on a sacrifice fly in the sixth by Ethier's replacement, Jay Gibbons. It was a dose of payback for Zambrano after his 7-3 loss to the Cubs on April 24 at Wrigley Field.
"I don't think we really had good at-bats. He just threw strikes and got outs," said Matt Kemp, who was 0 for 4 with a strikeout and a double-play grounder.
Lilly (2-3) was rocked for five runs and eight hits in six innings. It was the first time the two-time All-Star surrendered three or more home runs since July 4, 2001, with the Cubs, when Cincinnati hit four off him in a 14-3 rout at Wrigley.
"When we're not scoring runs, like today, I really feel like Ted's trying to get zeros every inning and not make mistakes. That's not a good way to pitch," manager Don Mattingly said. "We're in a little phase right now, but I still think we're going to score runs."
Zambrano and Lilly were teammates on the north side of Chicago from 2007 until last summer. Lilly was then traded to the Dodgers and won his first five starts for them. Since then, he is 4-7 with a 4.91 ERA in 14 starts and had allowed 14 home runs in 80 2/3 innings.
The Cubs, who were guilty of baserunning blunders throughout this three-game series, ran themselves into outs in the third and fifth innings. Alfonso Soriano tagged up and tried to make second after a flyball by Pena, but left fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. threw to second baseman Aaron Miles for the slap-tag.
Jeff Baker tried to stretch a bloop hit near the right-field line into a double and was out on Gibbons' quick peg. Soto came up next, driving a 2-2 pitch into the pavilion seats in left-center for his third homer.
Pena, who hit his first home run in a Cubs uniform during Tuesday night's 4-1 victory, led off Chicago's four-run sixth with a drive into the lower seats in the right field corner. Zambrano and Darwin Barney singled before Byrd sent Lilly's next pitch over the left-field fence for his first homer.
Gibbons, in his second game back from the disabled list after missing the first 30 because of vision problems, batted third in Ethier's place and was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. It was his first start in right field since last Aug. 15 in Atlanta, when he lost a flyball in the sun that was hit by Troy Glaus and a run scored.
Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers' 6-foot-4, 300-pound closer, won't pitch until after an MRI exam of his aching right elbow. He walked consecutive batters on four pitches each and was charged with two runs in the ninth inning of a 4-1 loss Tuesday night. ... Dodgers shortstop Juan Uribe left in the sixth inning with a bruised left hand, two innings after being hit by Zambrano. .... The Dodgers are scheduled to face Mets starters Jonathon Niese, Chris Young and R.A. Dickey in a series that begins Friday night at New York. Ethier is 12 for 29 against Young with six homers, 10 RBIs and five walks; and 1 for 2 against Dickey. He has never faced Niese, who pitches the series opener. ... The switch-hitting Zambrano, whose 20 career homers are a Cubs record for pitchers, sent Gwynn to the warning track with a first-pitch drive in the third inning.