Cubs Classics: Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter in Milwaukee
A most improbable no-hitter at an even more improbable venue occurred on Sept. 14, 2008, at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wis.
For the second time in the ballpark’s existence, the home team for a baseball game was not the Brewers. Nobody could imagine what fate had in store for Carlos Zambrano and his team that night.
Due to perceived damage and havoc of Hurricane Ike as it approached the Texas panhandle, MLB moved the Cubs-Astros series from Houston to the guaranteed site of Miller Park in Milwaukee with its retractable roof.
The teams were set to play a two-game set on the 14th and 15th of the month. The third game was rescheduled for September 29th in Houston if the game was deemed necessary. At the time the Cubs were leading the NL Central race and the Astros were in the Wild-Card hunt. Miller Park was used once previous to this series by the Indians and Angels in April of 2007 with bad storms hitting Ohio.
The Cubs were the visiting club despite the fact the crowd was 90 percent Cubs fans making the 90-mile trip from Chicago to watch their team play Houston. Twenty three thousand, four hundred forty one fans were on hand to witness history as Zambrano faced the Astros Randy Wolf on that Sunday night.
Zambrano had missed two starts (12 days) previous to this game due to shoulder tendinitis. He came out hitting the radar gun in the upper 90s. The Cubs got all the runs they needed in the 1st inning with a leadoff home run from Alfonso Soriano.
Four runs off of Wolf in the third inning knocked the Astros starter out of the game and gave Zambrano a nice cushion.
Zambrano had emerged as the ace of the Cubs staff, bursting out from the shadow of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Thirteen months earlier, he had signed the richest contract by a pitcher in Cubs franchise history (5 years, $91 .5 million).
Two at-bats prevented a perfect game for Big Z that evening. Michael Bourn walked with one out in the 4th and was retired as part of a double play in the next at-bat. Hunter Pence was hit by a pitch in the 5th with two outs.
That was it for Houston. Two fly ball outs, one pop out, 10 strikeouts and 13 ground ball outs (including the double play), highlighted the first no-hitter by a Cubs pitcher in 36 seasons.
Zambrano retired the last 13 Astros consecutively.
“I’m a little confused right now,” Zambrano said to me and a group of reporters that made their way to Miller Park that evening. “I still can’t believe it…To throw a no-hitter is good, man. This is one of the few things in baseball that you most enjoy.”
The hardest-hit ball by an Astros hitter was off the bat of Geoff Blum leading off the 8th inning. Mark DeRosa, playing right field, made a nice running catch near the foul line to flag it down.
The no-no included a 1-2-3 9th. On the first pitch, catcher Humberto Quintero grounded out to shortstop. Pinch hitter Jose Castillo — the second batter — grounded out to Ryan Theriot on the third pitch. On a 3-2 count, Darin Erstad swung at a ball clearly out of the zone to secure the first Cubs no-hitter since Sept. 2, 1972. That day, Milt Pappas worked his magic against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.
“I think the rest helped me out,” Zambrano told Len Kasper and Bob Brenly on the WGN TV postgame show, referencing his missed starts prior to the outing. “All my pitches were working. I saw in the 1st inning I was throwing 99 mph so I said, ‘let’s go.’ I want to thank God and hopefully, the next step will be the World Series for us.”
Although the Cubs won a league-high 97 games that season, they were swept in the playoffs by the Dodgers. Zambrano ended the regular season with a 14-6 record and lost Game 2 of the NLDS after going 6.1 innings allowing 7 runs (3 earned) at Wrigley.
Years later, Zambrano walked off the field in Atlanta and left the team mid-game during a dispute in 2011. He never pitched for the Cubs again after that. The Venezuelan strong man only threw only one more complete game after the no-hit performance for the Cubs and one for Miami in 2012.
Bruce Levine is a contributor to Marquee Sports Network and a baseball analyst for 670 The Score.