Reds 1, Cubs 0
Then Zambrano had to wait out a 13-minute delay when an umpire became ill before the ninth inning, and the Reds got the opening they needed.
“That’s something that couldn’t be helped,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “Zambrano wasn’t as sharp when he came out against that first hitter. But we should have won three or four times earlier in the game. We had plenty of scoring opportunities.”
The loss dropped the Cubs two games behind Houston in the NL Central race. The Astros beat St. Louis 4-1 earlier Sunday.
It was the Reds’ 29th victory in their final at-bat, most in the majors.
“It’s a bump in the road,” Baker said. “There’s 13, 14 games left. You can make up two games in two days. It’s still going to go down to the wire.”
Zambrano (13-10) was dazzling for most of the day, allowing only three hits and no walks through the first eight innings, and retiring 13 straight at one point. But after he came out for the ninth inning, home plate umpire Steve Rippley left the game with a headache.
Rippley had been hit in the chin with a foul tip in the sixth inning, and his headache got progressively worse. He was taken to an area hospital for observation, and Zambrano waited 13 minutes while second base umpire Jerry Meals changed to go behind the plate.
“It’s never a good situation, but we do the best we can do with it,” first base umpire Larry Vanover said.
But when the game started again, Zambrano got in trouble. He gave up a leadoff walk to Olmedo, who took second on a sacrifice and went to third on a wild pitch. Zambrano retired D’Angelo Jimenez on a grounder, but Branyan lofted a single into shallow center to score the game’s only run.
It was Branyan’s lone hit of the day, and just the fourth of the afternoon for the last-place Reds.
Zambrano was gone when the Cubs clubhouse opened, but Cubs catcher Paul Bako said he didn’t think the right-hander was thrown by the delay.
“He might have lost his rhythm for a second, but he made some pretty good pitches to Olmedo,” Bako said. “He made a great pitch on Branyan, and the guy just muscled it out there and it fell in where we weren’t playing.
“The bottom line is we didn’t score,” Bako added. “We didn’t score and we didn’t give him any support out there today.”
Zambrano struck out seven while walking only one in the complete game. It was only his second loss in 11 starts since the All-Star break.
The Cubs had never seen Reds starter Josh Hall, who was making only his fourth major league appearance after spending most of the year at Double-A Chattanooga.
“Anytime you’re familiar with a guy, you’ve got an idea of what he’s going to do,” Baker said. “In my experience, anytime you face a new guy, he’s going to have the advantage.”
Hall made the most of that advantage. He allowed seven hits in seven innings, but all were singles. And whenever the Cubs threatened, he responded.
Chicago had runners in scoring position in both the sixth and seventh innings and came away with nothing. In the sixth, the Cubs loaded the bases with two outs on an intentional walk to Randall Simon, but Alex Gonzalez grounded out.
In the seventh, Kenny Lofton drew a two-out walk and Mark Grudzielanek followed with a single to shallow right. That brought up Sammy Sosa, and the Wrigley Field fans got to their feet and chanted “Sam-my! Sam-my!”
“It was a gut check,” Hall said. “I knew it was do-or-die, and I had to go at him like everybody else. I gave him a curveball down.”
Sosa struck out, and the Cubs didn’t manage a hit the rest of the game.
“We’ve still got more games to go,” Lofton said. “We’ve got to go out andwin ball games. That’s the bottom line.”
Hall worked seven innings, the longest outing by a Cincinnati starter since Paul Wilson went seven innings on Aug. 23. … Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins threw out the first pitch and sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” … The Reds gave up less than 10 hits for the first time in nine games. …The victory was just the second in eight road games for the Reds.