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Columnist
Piniella left us wanting more (Big Z)
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/4/2007 12:54 AM | Updated: 10/4/2007 12:59 AM

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PHOENIX -- Carlos Zambrano can pitch for my team anytime.

Unfortunately, he could pitch only 6 innings for Lou Piniella's on Wednesday night.

The Cubs manager might have some 'splaining to do, Lucy, because Zambrano sure did look like he had more left in him.

"We gave it to the bullpen, and it didn't work," Piniella said. "Period. End of story."

Zambrano yielded only 1 run and 4 hits, walking only 1 and striking out eight.

More significantly, Zambrano matched aces with Arizona's Brandon Webb, last year's Cy Young Award winner in the National League.

Aces were anything but wild, Zambrano and Webb combining for 17 strikeouts against 4 walks over a total of 13 innings.

Ah, but after Big Z left with Game 1 of the National League division series in a 1-1 standoff, the D'backs beat up Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol for a 3-1 victory.

It's common for managers to lean on their bullpens at this time of year. Starting pitchers are tired, they often are required to come back on short rest, and relief pitching becomes critical.

"Zambrano is a top of the line pitcher," noted Mark Reynolds, who homered off Marmol for the eventual winning run. "Anytime he comes out of the game, it's a sigh of relief."

In the postseason, the winning manager is a genius and the losing manager is a dunce. Piniella will be second-guessed from here to, well, all the way to tonight's game.

"I've got a good bullpen here," Piniella explained. "I'm bringing back a pitcher (Zambrano) on three days' rest on Sunday."

The playoff opener was as good a baseball game as you would ever want to see, and the atmosphere was one of the best.

Chicks might dig the longball, but aficionados of the game dig a pitchers duel between two of the major leagues' best young pitchers.

They also like the kind of outstanding defensive plays made by Mark DeRosa, Tony Clark and Stephen Drew.

It was baseball at its best -- pitching and defense especially -- and enough Cubs fans were at Chase Field to make the crowd sound like what you might hear at a high school basketball regional.

Chants of "Let's go, D'backs!" were matched by chants of "Let's go, Cubbies!" Signs proclaiming, "Cub fans, this is where you say wait 'til next year" were matched by Cubs T-shirts taunting the snakes.

The D'backs even poked fun at the Cubs during "Kiss Cam" time, showing a Steve Bartman impersonator all by himself on the Jumbotron in center field.

It was the kind of emotionally charged situation in which the emotionally charged Zambrano might have imploded, Instead he stayed within himself and pitched masterfully.

So masterfully that it appeared Big Z could effortlessly throw 150 pitches. Piniella, who had said he would limit Zambrano to 100 or 110 pitches, took him out after 85.

Leave them wanting more, the show biz playbook says, but it just seemed odd this time.

Arizona manager Bob Melvin allowed Webb to go only 1 more inning and 4 more pitches than Zambrano, almost as if he and Piniella had a pact to turn this into a battle of the bullpens.

Melvin's won because Reynolds made Marmol human for a change.

Period. End of story … unless you don't accept Piniella's strategy of taking out Zambrano after 85 pitches.

mimrem@dailyherald.com