Chicago Cubs: Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter still holds place in history

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Of all the no-hitters and perfect games thrown in MLB history, former Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter in 2008 was undoubtedly one of the more unique ones.

September 2008. The powerful Hurricane Ike was ravaging the Gulf of Mexico. Right on the same path Ike traveled was Houston, Texas. The Chicago Cubs were set to visit the Houston Astros at Minute Made Park in mid-September, right when Ike was going to hit eastern Texas dead on.

Two of the games between the Cubs and Astros would be relocated to Miller Park in Milwaukee on the 14th and 15th. The first game was to be played at 7:05 on Sunday night with game two set for 1:10 on Monday afternoon. It was an already unusual thing to see a game at a “neutral” sight; it does not happen very often. Something crazy was going to happen.

27-year old Carlos Zambrano took the mound on Sunday night for the Cubs under the closed Miller Park roof. The result? The first no-hitter by a Chicago Cub since Milt Pappas in 1972. It all ended when Zambrano got Darin Erstad to swing and miss at a pitch tailing low and away from him.

9 IP, 0 H, 10 K, 1 BB, 73 strikes, 110 pitches, 12 groundballs, four flyballs, one line-drive, 1 HBP

Significance of Zambrano’s no-hitter

As mentioned, this game was at a “neutral” sight. The constant quotation of the word is because while by rule the Cubs were the road team, 99.9% of the 23,441 at Miller Park that night were wearing blue. In terms of fan support, it was a home game for the Cubs. This did NOT make the Houston Astros happy at all.

The move to Miller Park was already controversial, but it gained steam when two Astros “home” crowds were over 20K Cubs fans. Nonetheless, it was a neutral site game and Zambrano’s no-hitter was the first to occur at one. To this day it is still the only no-hitter to be thrown at Miller Park.

Going back to Milt Pappas, the 36 years between his gem in 1972 and Zambrano’s was the second-longest gap between no-nos since Jimmy Lavender (1915) and Sam Jones (1955) in franchise history. Most Cubs fans under 45 at the time would not have witnessed or remembered the Pappas no-hitter, so it was a new experience for a lot of fans to see a Cub accomplish that feat.

Another fun fact, there was one other pitcher in baseball to throw a no-hitter in 2008. A young-24-year-old pitcher for the Red Sox by the name of Jon Lester.

The game itself

Kind of funny how the two most-famous Chicago Cubs pitching performances since the 90s came against the Houston Astros. Reference to Kerry Wood‘s 20K game. This game is not really remembered for having a ton of strikeouts, but Zambrano did reach double-digits in whiffs. He allowed just the two runners on a walk and hit-by-pitch but they never advanced as the Astros did not threaten to score once.

This 2008 Astros team was no scrub team either. They entered the game in the thick of the Wild Card race with an 80-67 record. Houston boasted the likes of Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada and Hunter Pence in their lineup. Though worth noting Lee did not play in the game. All but one (Tejada) of the players in the starting lineup who got an at-bat struck out at least once.

This game was a special moment that looked like further confirmation that the 2008 Cubs were going all the way. Sadly, the team’s performance in the NLDS that year proved otherwise, but at that time it was another chapter in that great regular season. Also, do not forget that Ted Lilly the very next day, brought a no-hitter into the 7th inning in a 6-1 Cubs victory. Imagine back-to-back no-hitters.

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One last fact about that series at Miller Park. It was initially going to be a three-game set but only the two were played in Milwaukee. The third was never played, and the  Chicago Cubs finished 2008 having played only 161 games.