Even if the ace right-hander hits like a regular player, not somebody who can’t wait to get his three futile swings over with so he can flee to the dugout.
Zambrano had four hits to go with a stellar seven innings on the mound and Reed Johnson hit a three-run home run and two doubles as the Cubs extended their mastery of division rival Pittsburgh by winning 12-3 Friday night.
The Cubs, who lead the NL Central, are 9-1 against the Pirates this season, 4-0 in Pittsburgh, and 12-1 in their last 13 meetings.
Zambrano (7-1) gave up two runs and six hits—he allowed seven hits and five runs, four earned, against Pittsburgh in a no-decision Sunday—and had a career day at the plate. His four-hit game was the first by a Cubs pitcher since Lew Burdette on July 23, 1964.
Zambrano’s 4-for-5 performance elevated his average to .343, which is higher than any Pirates starting position player.
“It goes to show you that when he concentrates, what he’s capable of doing,” manager Lou Piniella said. “Four hits in a game? That’s hard for an everyday player to do, much less a pitcher.”
Zambrano has four career games with three or more hits, two this season.
“That’s a good feeling, hopefully I can continue to do a good job (at the plate) and the starting pitchers can continue to help themselves,” Zambrano said.
Arizona’s Micah Owings was the last pitcher with a four-hit game, also doing it against the Pirates last September.
NL Central managers Tony La Russa of St. Louis and Ned Yost of Milwaukee regularly hit their pitchers eighth, so their leadoff hitter always has a regular hitter in front of him.
Zambrano isn’t lobbying for such a move, not with Alfonso Soriano hitting behind him. Soriano had two hits and is 10-for-16 against Pittsburgh the last eight days.
“No, I’m OK with hitting where I am,” Zambrano said. “When you have Soriano hitting after you, you know you’re going to see a lot of fastballs so you take advantage, make adjustments and try to hit the ball hard.”
Or like Johnson did. Bumped into a platoon role in center field by the Cubs’ recent pickup of Jim Edmonds, Johnson doubled in the second inning and scored on the first of Zambrano’s four singles. Johnson homered in the fifth to make it 8-0, then doubled again an inning later following Mark DeRosa’s sacrifice fly.
On a night the Cubs generated much of their offense merely by hitting ground balls to Pittsburgh’s shaky infield, Zambrano didn’t give the Pirates much five days after lasting only four innings against them in what became a 7-6 Pirates win.
The Cubs, 21-7 when they score first, took a 2-0 lead in the first inning with the help of the Pirates’ NL-worst defense, which has 45 errors and is averaging nearly one per game.
Soriano doubled and scored when right fielder Xavier Nady couldn’t make a diving catch of Derrek Lee’s soft liner that fell for a single. Soriano was running, so Nady could have turned a double play by making the catch. Lee later scored when third baseman Doug Mientkiewicz misplayed Ronny Cedeno’s ground ball for an error.
“They’re a good hitting ballclub and they took advantage of the mistakes we made,” Pirates manager John Russell said.
Pirates shortstop Chris Gomez muffed pitcher Zach Duke’s throw for an error on an apparent double play grounder an inning later. The Cubs added another run in the fourth after first baseman Adam LaRoche hesitated while deciding where to throw on a ground ball with two on and didn’t get any runner.
Duke (2-3), lifted after that inning, allowed 10 of the Cubs’ 18 hits and five runs, four earned.
“It’s tough to get hitters out when you keep throwing the ball down the middle,” Duke said. “We can beat this team. But we’ve not been playing well enough to beat people. We’ve been beating ourselves.”
In an unusual scene, Russell and Piniella argued at the same time in the fourth after Jason Bay hit a long fly ball that a fan in the right-center grandstands muffed as he leaned over the outfield railing.
Bay pulled up at third as the Cubs ran the ball down and was awarded a triple due to fan interference. Piniella felt Bay should have had a ground-rule double; Russell wanted a home run because the ball reached the stands.
The call, which TV replays showed was correct, didn’t make a difference as Zambrano retired the next three hitters to strand Bay at third.
Soriano is 12-for-21 (.571) against Duke. … The Cubs had won only two of Zambrano’s last eight starts against the Pirates. … The Cubs scored 10 or more runs against Pittsburgh for the fourth time this season.