Cubs 4, Astros 1

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CHICAGO (AP)—Cubs manager Dusty Baker came to the mound in the eighth inning to talk to pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who was struggling to cap off another sensational start.

Baker told the Venezuelan right-hander to relax in Spanish—just to make sure he got his point across.

“He speaks good Spanish and he just went to the mound and said calm down and make your pitches,” Zambrano said. “I think he wanted me to understand clearly.”

Zambrano went on to win his career-best seventh consecutive decision, striking out 10 and allowing one run in eight innings to lead the Chicago Cubs over the Houston Astros 4-1 Thursday.

“He’s having quite a run here,” Baker said. “Especially since it’s his 10th victory and considering he didn’t get a win in April.”

Michael Barrett and Aramis Ramirez hit back-to-back homers in the third to give Zambrano an early cushion. It was the first time this season the Cubs have hit home runs in consecutive at-bats.

“This is a long time coming,” Baker said. “Especially since we’re used to having quite a few back-to-back homers.”

Zambrano (10-3) gave up two hits and walked four. The Cubs’ ace had a shutout going until Willy Taveras singled and scored on Chris Burke’s sacrifice fly in the eighth. Zambrano then walked Mike Lamb with two outs to bring Baker out of the dugout.

Is Zambrano, whose ERA is down to 3.11, in the NL Cy Young race?

“Yeah,” Baker said. “But I don’t want him to start thinking about that stuff.”

Barrett singled in a run in the first against Andy Pettitte (8-10) and hit a one-out homer in the third. Ramirez followed with his team-high 17th homer, to deep center, to make it 3-0.

The Astros have lost three of four and scored just six runs in those losses. They went 1-for-22 (.045) with runners in scoring position while losing two of three to the Cubs.

“We’re just having trouble putting any runs on the board,” Astros manager Phil Garner said.

The Astros spent more time arguing over strike calls then solving Zambrano. He struck out the side in the third and retired the first 12 hitters he faced before Aubrey Huff walked to lead off the fifth. Luke Scott followed with a single and Zambrano uncorked a wild pitch, allowing the runners to move to second and third.

The often-excitable Zambrano kept his composure though, striking out Brad Ausmus and Adam Everett before Taveras grounded out to first to end the inning.

The Astros put runners on first and third in the seventh but Zambrano struck out Ausmus and Eric Munson to end the threat.

Zambrano compared his style to a high-speed chase.

“When you drive a car, when you’re the driver, you know what to do,” Zambrano said. “When you go 100 mph in Venezuela, you know what to do. The people in the passenger seat can be scared, but the guy driving the car is not scared. It’s the same way on the mound.”

Ryan Dempster pitched the ninth for his 16th save.

Pettitte allowed four runs and six hits with four walks in five innings. He struck out six. Pettitte walked three in the fifth, with Matt Murton’s walk scoring Juan Pierre.

“I’ve been feeling comfortable my last four, five starts,” Pettitte said. “But I was just really battling myself today mechanically.”

Notes

Cubs 1B Derrek Lee wasn’t in the lineup as the team continues to occasionally rest the slugger, who missed 59 games earlier this season after breaking a bone in his right wrist. Lee said after the game he’s battling normal soreness in his bone and will play Friday in Washington. … Mike Quade joined the Cubs coaching staff from Triple-A Iowa. Quade goes from manager to full-time third base coach in place of Chris Speier, who is on an indefinite leave of absence after he was arrested Tuesday night and accused of driving under the influence and traffic violations on his motorcycle in downtown Chicago. … Pierre got his 34th and 35th stolen bases in the fifth after reaching on a bunt single. … Pettitte had won two straight decisions, equaling a season high. … The Cubs won for the first time this season on a Thursday, improving to 1-8. … Barrett went 10-for-20 with five RBIs in the Cubs’ six-game homestand. … The Cubs hit back-to-back homers six times in 2005.

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