With the White Sox jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first, capped off by a two run homer by Paul Konerko, it was quickly looking like Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs were on their way to another loss. But for some reason, the home run ended up fueling some fire within Zambrano. The turbulent Cubs pitcher had seen the velocity on his fastball decrease as low as the upper 80s (miles per hour) within the last couple years, but a switch turned on internally for him and he started firing fastballs up to 95 mph.
The positive is that Zambrano settled down and ended up pitching eight frames, an inning eating start that definitely helped rest a bullpen that has been worn out over the season as a whole and from the weekend series against the Yankees. After allowing three hits in the first inning alone, he held the Sox offense to just four more hits the rest of the game. He also got help from his buddies on defense as the Cubs went errorless in the field. Specifically, Carlos Pena made a nice backhanded grab on a Juan Pierre smash along the first base line that robbed the former Cub of an extra base hit and a possible 6-4 score line. Considering how the Cubs have played over the course of the 2011 season, that frame could have easily snow balled on the boys in blue.
The negative is you have to wonder where the velocity has been on other nights. Is Zambrano not giving 100% in each and every start that he is out on the mound?
Regardless, Zambrano finished in style with a strong one two three eight inning before giving way to Carlos Marmol. The closer, who as we all know had been called out by Zambrano just a couple weeks ago, started the inning by retiring Alexei Ramirez. But he then allowed back to back singles that allowed the tying run to come to the plate, and both pitchers named Carlos were probably starting to get nervous of a blown save, which would surely dig up the dirt from the Zambrano rant on Marmol.
But the Cubs closer was able to nail down the final two outs for the save and put the Cubs ahead 1-0 in the City Series. On the offensive side, the Cubs chipped away at their early deficit, thanks to their sophomore phenom Starlin Castro. In the top of the third, it was a clutch two out single by the Cubs shortstop that brought in two runs. He even stole second base, his ninth steal of the season, to put himself into scoring position for the tying run, but Blake DeWitt could not get a base hit to bring him in.
Castro continued to take care of business himself on the offensive side by lining a home run into left field to tie the game. This is when Sox starter Gavin Floyd began to unravel, as he allowed a single and issued a walk following Castro’s bomb. Pena cashed in on the runners on base ahead of him, launching a three run homer to put the Cubs up 6-3. After a slow start, he now only trails Alfonso Soriano for the team lead in home runs, with last night’s blast being his twelfth of 2011. That blast by Pena proved to be all Zambrano and Marmol needed to seal the win.
Last year it was Zambrano that had a melt down that saw his day end short in the City Series. This time around it was Sox manager Ozzie Guillen that provided the side show theatrics to entertain observers and players alike. His emphatic dispute of a fair or foul call on a ball sitting on the edge of home plate earned him an early exit, and the moment will be forever remembered in City Series history when he proceeded to kick Geo Soto’s catcher’s mask into the Sox dugout. With the NFL still stuck in a labor dispute, it may be the closest thing to Robbie Gould that Chicago fans may see for months. All this fun in one night and we are only heading into Round Two of a six round bout.