Cubs 8, Brewers 3

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CHICAGO (AP)—Carlos Zambrano was sure this would be a special night.

Zambrano took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and struck out nine to lead the Chicago Cubs over the Milwaukee Brewers 8-3 Monday.

“This was my first chance to throw a no-hitter in my career,” Zambrano said. “I thought this time I got it. The other three times I didn’t have that confidence. Today I had the confidence.”

Zambrano last flirted with a no-hitter last season. He took his bid into the eighth inning on Aug. 22, 2003, at Arizona. Shea Hillenbrand broke it up with two outs in the eighth.

Moises Alou went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and two doubles for Chicago, which has won five of six. Every starter for the Cubs had at least one hit. They moved less than a percentage point ahead of San Francisco in the NL wild-card standings.

The Brewers have lost a season-high six straight.

Geoff Jenkins broke up the no-hit bid with one out in the seventh when he blooped a double that barely stayed fair down the left-field line.

Zambrano then gave up back-to-back singles to Brady Clark and Craig Counsell. Jenkins scored on Clark’s single. One out later, pinch-hitter Ben Grieve chased Zambrano with a two-run double, cutting the Cubs’ lead to 6-3.

Zambrano (12-7) pitched 6 2-3 innings, allowing three runs and four hits. Kent Mercker threw 1 1-3 innings of perfect relief, and Ryan Dempster worked a scoreless ninth.

Zambrano said he had good stuff starting in the bullpen before the game.

“Everything was sharp today, everything was down and I could throw the ball today where I wanted,” he said. “I was feeling great today, since the beginning to the end.”

Zambrano was aided by two great defensive plays. Corey Patterson made a spectacular, diving catch in center field on Counsell’s drive in the second inning, and Alou made a sliding catch at the warning track in left, robbing Scott Podsednik of extra bases in the sixth.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker thought those two plays might key a no-hitter by Zambrano.

“I thought today was going to be the day, especially after they made those two great plays out there. Usually in a no-hitter you will see usually one, but not two great plays like that,” Baker said.

For the second time this season, the city gave the Cubs a game day go-ahead to play ball at Wrigley Field after the stadium passed another round of inspections of repair work done on its crumbling upper deck.

On July 30, city officials allowed the Cubs to play after they installed safety nets to ensure fans would not be hit by any of the debris that has fallen three times this season at 90-year-old Wrigley Field.

Chicago shortstop Nomar Garciaparra missed the game because of a strained left wrist and is day-to-day.

Garciaparra said he strained his wrist in batting practice Friday in Houston. It’s the longest the five-time All-Star has been out since being traded to the Cubs on July 31 from the Boston Red Sox, the only team he had ever played for.

Brewers starter Ben Sheets (9-10) was tagged for two runs on three doubles in the first inning.

Derrek Lee doubled to left and scored on Alou’s RBI double. After a walk to Sammy Sosa, Aramis Ramirez followed with another double, scoring Alou.

In the fifth, Zambrano led off by legging out a bunt single. One out later, Sheets allowed back-to-back singles to Lee and Todd Walker to load the bases. During Alou’s at-bat, Sheets threw a wild pitch, allowing Zambrano to score. Alou then singled in Lee, and Sosa followed with an RBI double. Alou scored on Ramirez’s sacrifice fly, making it 6-0.

Alou doubled in the seventh and scored on Michael Barrett’s RBI single. Sosa, who reached base when he was hit in the left wrist by a pitch from reliever Matthew Wise, scored on Ramon Martinez’s RBI infield single, giving the Cubs an 8-3 lead.

Sheets gave up a season-high six runs in six innings. He allowed 10 hits, struck out five and walked one.

Sheets hasn’t won since July 10. He is 0-5 in his last eight outings.

“I’ve got too good of stuff to be giving up these runs,” Sheets said. “The team needs someone to pick them up and I’m not there.”

Notes

Zambrano had lost four of his last six decisions. … Sheets has given up at least four runs in each of his last seven starts.

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