Milwaukee’s Miller Park has been like a home away from home for the Chicago Cubs. Now it will forever be etched as a history-making venue for one of baseball’s most storied franchises.
One night after Carlos Zambrano became the first Cubs’ pitcher in 36 years to throw a no-hitter, Chicago tries to follow that up with a third straight victory to conclude their relocated series with the Houston Astros on Monday afternoon.
Pitching on 12 days rest due to a sore rotator cuff, Zambrano retired all but two hitters in Chicago’s 5-0 win over the Astros, who were the home team despite the game being played at a neutral site in Milwaukee after Hurricane Ike ravaged the Houston area this weekend.
“It’s a great feeling, a feeling that you can’t describe,” said Zambrano, who struck out 10 to become the first Cub since Milt Pappas on Sept. 2, 1972 to toss a no-hitter. “All my pitches were working great.”
After 23,441 fans - most of them cheering for the Cubs - witnessed history, Monday the clubs conclude this brief series, originally scheduled as a three-game set in Houston, but was moved after Friday and Saturday’s games were postponed due to the storm. If NL standings dictate the third game is needed, it will be played Sept. 29 at Houston after the final day of the season.
While it might be tough to follow up Sunday’s excitement, Chicago - which owns a 7 1/2-game lead over the fading Brewers in the NL Central - looks to improve to 6-0 at Miller Park this season. The Cubs swept a four-game set from the Brewers at the park dubbed “Wrigley North” from July 28-31 and are 35-26 all-time at the venue.
“It’s definitely to our advantage,” Chicago’s Derrek Lee told the Cubs’ official Web site. “Under the circumstances, you have to play wherever you can.”
Alfonso Soriano opened Sunday’s contest with a leadoff homer and Lee drove in a pair of runs with a double during a four-run third inning. Lee is hitting .387 (24-for-62) with 12 RBIs against Houston in 2008.
Astros coaches and players would have preferred to play the games at home or at a site they felt was more neutral than Miller - some 90 miles north of Chicago - which proved to be the most viable option when playing in Houston was no longer possible.
“It’s like a Cub home game,” Cooper said. “Only they’re not the ‘home’ team, we are. I’m not happy about that. I need to tell the commissioner that.
“(But) I’m letting it go now. It’s time to play baseball.”
The loss cooled off the Astros (80-68), who had won six in a row and 14 of 15 to jump back into the playoff race. Though 9 1/2 games back of Chicago in the division, Houston is two back of wild-card co-leaders Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
Hunter Pence went 0-for-2 on Sunday, snapping his 13-game hitting streak. He is batting .404 (21-for-52) since Aug. 29.
On Tuesday, the Astros try to bounce back against Chicago’s Ted Lilly (14-9, 4.29 ERA), who avoided a third straight loss by allowing one run and five hits in eight innings of a 4-3 win at St. Louis on Wednesday.
The left-hander, who had given up eight runs in 8 2-3 innings of his previous two starts, is 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA in five career games versus Houston and 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA against them this season.
The Astros counter with Brian Moehler (11-6, 4.16), who looks for his second straight win after allowing two runs and five hits in six innings of a 7-4 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in six starts versus Chicago and 1-1 with a 2.12 ERA in three this season.
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