Russell Branyan's homer in the ninth enough for Padres victory.
The intensity and passion Carlos Zambrano brings to every start were evident Saturday from the moment the Cubs pitcher opened the game with a strikeout of San Diego’s Marcus Giles.
Zambrano maintained that kind of focus throughout the afternoon, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning. He finished with a complete-game two-hitter, but still came up on the short end of a 1-0 decision.
Russell Branyan’s ninth-inning homer was the difference as San Diego snapped the Cubs’ three-game winning streak in front of 41,632 spectators at Wrigley Field.
“So far, it’s my best game,” Zambrano said. “We lost the game, but we have a chance to win (today), take two out of three and win the series. That’s what it’s all about, winning series. That’s what we’ve been doing lately.”
Zambrano and counterpart Chris Young both had no-hitters through three innings. Young was ejected in the bottom of the fourth after he hit Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee with a pitch, sparking a fight between the two and causing both benches to clear.
Lee also was tossed, along with Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry and San Diego pitcher Jake Peavy.
Zambrano didn’t retaliate.
“I knew I had to pitch my game. There was nothing to do,” Zambrano said. “There was a warning (from the umpires), and I couldn’t do nothing, really. Whatever happened happened, and we’ll see the next time.”
Doubles by Mark DeRosa in the fourth and Ryan Theriot in the fifth were the only hits the Cubs (31-36) could muster against four San Diego pitchers. The shutout was the Padres’ 11th of the season, most in the major leagues.
Heath Bell (1-2), who pitched 1 2/3 innings in relief, earned the win, and Trevor Hoffman tossed a perfect ninth inning for his 19th save.
Zambrano (7-6) walked five and struck out six in his first complete game since Sept. 18, 2005, against St. Louis.
“He was really good,” Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said. “It was the best it’s been since I’ve been catching him. He was in the strike zone. He was low, he knew when to elevate. He knew what he wanted. We were on the same page, pretty much. Hard not to be.
“You can’t hold down a wrong finger with him. Tip your cap to him. He makes everybody look good, makes the whole team look good when he’s out there.”
Zambrano had plenty of help, as the Cubs turned three inning-ending double plays, including one with the bases loaded in the fifth.
The right-hander also helped his own cause with a sparkling play in the seventh on a slow roller off the bat of Hiram Bocachica. Zambrano made a barehanded pickup and, as his momentum carried him toward third base, made a perfect throw for the out.
“It was a good play,” Zambrano said. “I was feeling good today, running and fielding. When you feel good and you’re an athlete, you can do a lot of things on the mound.”
Giles broke up the no-hitter one out into the eighth by sending a chopper up the middle that bounced off the top of Zambrano’s glove and deflected to the right side of the infield. Second baseman Mike Fontenot had no play as he gloved the ball on the run.
“That was a weird play, because when I jumped, I imagined (shortstop Cesar) Izturis was behind me,” Zambrano said. “So if I keep my glove to catch a ball, I catch it. But I went like, ‘Oop, too late.’ The ball hit my glove.
“The second reaction that I thought was ‘Just grab the ball and throw it to Izturis.’ I think I had a chance because the batter is not a fast runner.”
Zambrano also had a no-hitter for 7 1/3 innings on June 5 of last season in Houston. His longest no-hit stretch to begin a game was 7 2/3 innings at Arizona on Aug. 22, 2003.
“In the seventh, I knew that I had a no-hitter going,” Zambrano said. “This game escaped from me, but I have a long career, and hopefully, I can get one.”
Branyan helped win it for San Diego (39-28) with one out in the ninth, hitting a 3-and-2 pitch the opposite way into the bleachers in left-center. The previous offering was a close pitch near the outside corner that was called a ball by home-plate umpire Mike Everitt.
“It was a pretty good pitch,” Zambrano said. “The only thing that I was mad (about) was they have to beat me with my best pitch - a fastball. I was throwing hard in the ninth inning and I should have thrown a fastball. It was a good pitch, a good changeup. The guy is just strong.”
The Cubs’ best scoring opportunity came in the fifth. Theriot doubled and stole third base as Hill struck out. Zambrano lifted a fly ball to right-center that was caught by Bocachica, who threw a strike to catcher Rob Bowen to easily get Theriot.
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