CHICAGO (AP) -- Carlos Zambrano pitched like an ace for the
Chicago Cubs. And that's no surprise because for most of the
season, he's been their best pitcher.
That's saying something considering the staff includes Kerry
Wood and Mark Prior -- both of whom have been slowed by injuries --
and Greg Maddux, who just got his 300th victory."No pressure. I went out there relaxed -- nice and easy -- and
made my pitches," Zambrano said after throwing eight strong
innings to lead a 5-1 victory over the Padres on Wednesday night.In his first start since he was suspended five games for hitting
St. Louis' Jim Edmonds with a pitch last month, Zambrano allowed
one run and five hits with one walk and six strikeouts.The victory put the Cubs two games ahead of the Padres for the
lead in the NL wild-card chase."This is an important week for us. We are in a race with San
Diego and San Francisco," Zambrano said after tying Maddux for the
team lead with 11 wins and lowering his ERA to 2.82, best among
Cubs starters."He's got great stuff. We haven't done a lot with him," San
Diego manager Bruce Bochy said. "He was on top of his game and we
just got shut down."Corey Patterson had a two-run homer to give the Cubs an early
lead and Zambrano delivered an RBI single off Sterling Hitchcock.Zambrano (11-6) pitched out of early jams in the second and
third innings, when the Padres had two runners on each time but
couldn't score. That helped drive up his pitch count that reached
124 by the end of the night."The pitch count got high early and we were worried about that.
We needed some short innings," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
"But he threw the ball great."Chicago's Michael Barrett doubled for the first hit off
Hitchcock (0-1) in the third and scored one out later on
Patterson's long homer to right, his 14th of the season.Zambrano made it 3-0 in the fifth when he hit an RBI single
after Barrett's second double of the game.San Diego broke through in the sixth when Mark Loretta doubled,
moved to third on Phil Nevin's groundout and scored on a wild pitch
by Zambrano.But the Cubs knocked Hitchcock out in the sixth as Moises Alou
singled and Sammy Sosa doubled before reliever Rod Beck gave up
back-to-back sacrifice flies to Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee.In just his second start after missing nearly four months with a
fractured rib, Hitchcock gave up five runs and six hits in
five-plus innings."I think as time goes, everything will get a little better,"
Hitchcock said. "That's the big picture of it."
Sosa had a hustling double and also made a nice baserunning
move to reach third on a fly ball, setting up a sacrifice fly. Sosa
wouldn't directly comment on Baker's statement Tuesday that he
considered moving Sosa down in the batting order because of his
recent slump, but didn't do so because the star right fielder is so
sensitive. Baker and Sosa met. "Everything is cool," Baker said.
Sosa, who appeared disappointed by the uproar, said, "I go out and
do the best I can and fight for my at-bat. Whatever happens, it
happens. ... I don't have to prove anything to anybody. Just try to
win some games." ... Cubs pitchers Kerry Wood (five games) and
LaTroy Hawkins (three) on Wednesday appealed their suspensions in a
hearing before Bob Watson, vice president of on-field operations in
the commissioner's office. Wood said they hoped to get a reply
soon. ... Padres closer Trevor Hoffman has saved 30 games for the
ninth time in his career, one behind Lee Smith's all-time record.
... Patterson also stole his 18th base, tying a career high set in
2002. ... The Elias Sports Bureau made a scoring change from
Tuesday night's game and gave Mark Prior seven earned runs instead
of six, and Glendon Rusch one instead of two.