CHICAGO (AP)—Carlos Zambrano’s pledge to himself and his teammates is a simple one. Pitch and play like you’ve still got a chance.
It would take one of the great miracles in baseball history to get the Chicago Cubs to the postseason. But they have played better ball in the last week and on Sunday completed a rare four-game sweep of the first-place St. Louis Cardinals behind Zambrano.
“I am one of the guys that thinks you never have to give up,” Zambrano said after outpitching Chris Carpenter to win his ninth straight decision as the Cubs beat the Cards 6-3.
“When you have that ‘X’ that says you’re eliminated, then you give up. Not anybody in the league, not Kansas City, not Pittsburgh, has that ‘X’ that says they are eliminated,” Zambrano said.
“We’re still fighting for something. We still have a chance to do a lot of things.”
Belliard, an All-Star in 2004, gives the NL Central-leading Cardinals a steady, everyday second baseman for the stretch run. St. Louis has used Aaron Miles and Luna at second this season, but neither has been particularly productive at the plate.
“Sometimes you have to seize the moment,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “This is our chance to win.”
The Cubs (43-61) own their first four-game winning streak since capturing five straight last July.
And Chicago’s first four-game sweep of the Cardinals at Wrigley Field since 1972 left the Cardinals 0-7 this season at the Cubs’ home park. The Cubs also swept a three-game home series from the Cards in early April.
“That’s the million dollar question. Why can’t we do this all year long?” said second baseman Todd Walker, whose name has been tossed around in trade rumors.
“If this was the last game for any of us, at least we went out on a good note,” he said.
Zambrano (12-3), who has not lost since May 31, allowed five hits, five walks and two runs with five strikeouts in six innings, facing a Cardinals lineup that didn’t start Albert Pujols. He was a late scratch with a hyperextended right elbow, but entered the game as pinch-hitter in the seventh.
Carpenter (10-5) lasted just four innings—his shortest start of the season — and gave up all five of his runs in the first two innings on a muggy day. He yielded a leadoff homer to Ronny Cedeno in the second and six hits.
“I felt fine, I just didn’t pitch real well,” Carpenter said. “I made a lot of bad pitches and left the ball in the middle of the plate.”
He said it’s obvious that despite their overall 58-46 record, the Cardinals have not played well against the Cubs this season.
“You look at the games we played. We haven’t pitched well, we made some defensive mistakes and haven’t gotten any big hits,” he said.
Trailing 5-0, St. Louis broke through in the fifth when it loaded the bases for a second time in the game as Aaron Miles opened with the Cardinals’ second hit and pitcher Jason Marquis hit a pinch-hit double. Zambrano walked Chris Duncan to load the bases and the Cardinals scored on Scott Rolen’s fielder’s choice grounder to third. Zambrano then fanned Jim Edmonds and pumped his fist.
Miles followed with an infield single to short and Rodriguez sprained his right ankle sliding into second, even though the throw went to first base and not second. He was helped off the field and is day-to-day. Pinch-hitter Juan Encarnacion then grounded into a double play.
Juan Pierre walked leading off the Cubs’ first, went to third on Aramis Ramirez’s one-out single and scored on Phil Nevin’s sacrifice fly. Jacque Jones then delivered an opposite-field, two-out double for a 2-0 lead.
Cedeno, in a 19-for-122 slump (.156) since June 15, hit his third homer of the season to start the second. Henry Blanco and Zambrano followed with singles and moved up on Pierre’s sacrifice.
When Todd Walker hit a grounder to short, David Eckstein threw home and catcher Molina’s tag appeared to get Blanco at the plate, but umpire Marvin Hudson ruled him safe, giving the Cubs a 4-0 lead and bringing La Russa out for an argument. Ramirez then delivered an RBI single to right.
Carpenter had won four straight decisions entering the game.
The Cardinals made it 6-3 in the ninth on an RBI single by Rolen after Duncan’s triple.
Zambrano finished 6-0 in July and became the first Cubs pitcher to win six games in a month since Rick Reuschel won seven in August of 1979. … The Cubs’ four-game winning streak is their longest this season. … It was Carpenter’s first loss in seven career starts at Wrigley Field. He had been 4-0 at the Cubs’ home park and 6-1 overall against them. … The series attendance was 162,101, a four-game series record at Wrigley Field.