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Zambrano takes no-hitter into eighth; Cubs blank Astros

HOUSTON (AP) -- Normally excitable, Carlos Zambrano was perfectly
calm before taking his no-hit bid into the eighth inning Monday
night.

In fact, he even said it'd be all right if the Houston Astros
broke it up.

A few batters later, they did.

Zambrano held Houston hitless for 7 1-3 innings before Preston
Wilson grounded an opposite-field single, leading the Chicago Cubs
over the Astros 8-0.

Moments earlier, Zambrano said he told pitching coach Larry
Rothschild: "'Whatever happens in this inning, will happen. If
somebody gets a base hit, it's OK. I pitched a good game anyway and
I didn't let the other team score any runs."

Zambrano was trying to become the first Cubs pitcher to throw a
no-hitter since Milt Pappas on Sept. 2, 1972, against San Diego.
There has not been a no-hitter in the majors since Randy Johnson
pitched a perfect game for Arizona against Atlanta on May 18, 2004.

Instead, Zambrano beat the Astros with his arm and bat. He
homered and drove in four runs, and was in control on the mound.

"This was like a high school game for him," Cubs center
fielder Juan Pierre said. "He was the best pitcher and hitter on
the field tonight."

Zambrano walked Mike Lamb to start the eighth. An out later,
Wilson cleanly singled to right field.

"I made one mistake today and I did pay for it," Zambrano
said. "It cost me the no-no."

Wilson was impressed with Zambrano's work.

"You kind of wish that he was a guy that you had on your side
for just one night," Wilson said.

But he was relieved to get the hit.

"Nobody wants to get no-hit," he said. "And once it gets past
the sixth or seventh inning, everyone is starting to think about
it. It is great to get one, but you don't want to be on the side
that gets no-hit."

Zambrano then struck out Brad Ausmus and Eric Bruntlett to end
the inning. Will Ohman worked a perfect ninth inning.

Zambrano (4-3) threw 72 of his 126 pitches for strikes and
struck out eight. He was trying to pitch the eighth no-hitter for
the Cubs since 1900 -- four of them came between 1969 and 1972.

With two outs in the seventh, Lance Berkman took Zambrano to a
full count before he struck out swinging. Pierre also preserved the
no-hitter in the sixth when he sprinted to make the catch on a fly
ball to right-center by Ausmus.

Zambrano was perfect until he walked Morgan Ensberg to lead off
in the fifth. In his sixth season, Zambrano has allowed two or
fewer earned runs in six of his last seven starts.

"He was kind of teasing them with his off-speed stuff and his
fastball was moving everywhere," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.

Zambrano was grateful to have such a superb performance after
his last start, when he appeared to lose his composure and left
after allowing two runs in the sixth inning of a 3-2 loss to
Cincinnati.

"I told you guys last time I knew that I'm much better than how
I'm pitching right now," he said. "I want to help this team go
through everything."

Astros manager Phil Garner said he thought his team's recent
slump contributed to Zambrano's outing. Houston has lost five in a
row.

"It's probably a combination of us being flat and him being
effective, even though he was a little wild," Garner said. "But
he made quality pitches when he needed to."

Zambrano also had a great offensive outing. He hit a three-run
drive in the second inning for his fifth career home run and third
in Houston. Zambrano, who is batting below .100, hit his last homer
in August off Roy Oswalt at Minute Maid Park.

He added a sacrifice fly that scored Ronny Cedeno in the fourth
for his fourth RBI of the game and the season.

Zambrano said he went to the batting cage on Monday and worked
with his hitting coach for the first time this season. But he
couldn't really explain his home run success in Houston.

"I like this ballpark," he said with a laugh.

It marked the second time in two days that a pitcher has had
four RBI against the Astros after Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo did
it on Saturday. Before that a pitcher hadn't achieved the feat in
the majors since September 2003.

Michael Barrett and Jacque Jones hit solo homers to left in the
third to stretch Chicago's lead to 6-0.

Chicago has hit 81 home runs in Houston's ballpark since it
opened in 2000, the most of any opponent.

Astros starter Taylor Buchholz (3-5) was tagged for 11 hits and
eight runs in five innings before being replaced by Dave Borkowski.

Game Notes
Cedeno extended his career-high hitting streak to 10 games.
... Chicago is 3-1 in June after going 7-22 in May. ... Monday's
loss extended Houston's season-high home losing streak to five
games. ... Jones has scored at least one run in each of the Cubs'
last six games.