Zambrano brilliant in win over Sheets, Brewers
The big right-hander often is when facing the Brewers.
Zambrano outpitched Sheets again, and the Chicago Cubs scored five runs in the sixth inning to beat Milwaukee 7-1 on Tuesday night, assuring they’ll leave town leading the NL Central.
“Against any team, any good team, if you’re aggressive and you’re ahead in the count and you go out there and don’t try to do too much, just trying to do your job, things can happen when you hit the spots,” Zambrano said.
Zambrano (12-4) did much more than that. He was brilliant in eight scoreless innings, striking out a season-high nine while scattering five hits and two walks to lift the Cubs to their sixth win in the last eight games in Milwaukee.
“He has got so many pitches, and he’ll just throw them everywhere—inside, outside, make up stuff. I think you could have fun pitching like that,” Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron said. “He stayed around 91, 92 (mph), but it was cutting, sinking, diving, everything.”
In a much-hyped series between the NL’s top teams, Chicago pushed its division lead to three games and left the Brewers, losers of four of their last five, empty after pitching aces CC Sabathia and Sheets.
Chicago got to Sheets (10-4) with seven straight hits to start the sixth inning, sending 10 batters to the plate to break open a 1-0 game.
“They outplayed us every facet of the game, starting on the mound,” Sheets said.
Derrek Lee singled and Aramis Ramirez, who had four hits, doubled to the wall to bring up struggling Kosuke Fukudome. He flared a ball to left field that Ryan Braun tried to catch with an ill-advised dive.
Braun, who doesn’t have an error this year after committing 26 at third base last season, missed and the ball rolled to the wall, leaving Fukudome with a two-run triple.
“The way Zambrano’s throwing, you have got to try and make a play right there,” Braun said. “I felt like I needed to be aggressive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to it.”
“My strategy is when we have one of our two horses on the mound—CC or Ben — like CC last night, I am going to allow them every opportunity to work through trouble until I feel like the game has gotten by them,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said.
Zambrano, who followed Sheets to the mound in the All-Star game two weeks ago, clearly has the advantage head-to-head. In six matchups, Zambrano improved to 4-1.
Milwaukee, which has scored one run against Zambrano in the last 21 innings, failed to capitalize on its limited chances against the right-hander, putting just one runner on second against him.
“He goes big in big games,” Soto said. “He’s our ace, he’s always going to be our ace and he’s got really, really good stuff. Whenever it’s a big game, he likes big games, he likes to compete.”
In the second inning, Zambrano worked out of a two-on, none-out jam by freezing Russell Branyan with a changeup, overpowering Cameron with a fastball and getting Jason Kendall, his former catcher, to ground out weakly.
Zambrano also worked around a leadoff single by Braun in the fourth and a leadoff walk by Cameron in the fifth to maintain a 1-0 lead.
“When you see guys like Sheets,” Zambrano said, “you have to be almost perfect. The lineup that they have is a pretty good lineup.”
Chicago, now 24-30 on the road, certainly has a home 90 miles north of Wrigley Field. The Cubs are seven games over .500 since Miller Park opened in 2001 and always have a large contingent of fans. Chicago won the opener with Ted Lilly starting, and will pitch Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden to round out the series.
“Lilly and Zambrano aren’t exactly chopped liver,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “We’ve got Dempster, we’ve got Harden, we’re throwing some darn good pitching out there ourselves. We’re pleased that we won the first two. Let’s not relax now.”
For the second straight night, Chicago struck first.
In the fourth, Ramirez hit the first of his three doubles. Sheets uncorked a wild pitch and DeRosa brought him in with a sacrifice fly moments later.
Zambrano also showed off his fiery emotions in the fifth. After Soto’s leadoff single, Zambrano popped out on an attempted bunt and broke his bat by slamming it over his knee in frustration.
“I wish I was strong enough to do that when I played,” Piniella said. “I had to use a water cooler.”
Yost said he expects Sabathia to be fine after throwing 124 pitches Monday. It was the first time since 2004 and the fourth time in his career that Sabathia had thrown that many. … Piniella declined to discuss if his team needs another player before Thursday’s trade deadline. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said at the start of the series he didn’t anticipate another major move by his club.