Zambrano beat Pittsburgh for the seventh consecutive time over two seasons, limiting the Pirates to two hits until the eighth and helping himself and the Chicago Cubs with two hits in a 9-5 victory Saturday.
Zambrano (12-5) went 5-0 against the Pirates last season -- the first pitcher to beat them five times in season since Tom Seaver in 1973 -- and is 2-0 in three starts against them this year. He gave up Craig Wilson's RBI single in the first, then was in control until he gave up three runs in the eighth.
Pitching 7 2/3 innings, Zambrano won his fourth in a row overall and his fifth in six decisions, though he failed for the first time in 13 starts to allow three or fewer runs. He gave up five runs and five hits, striking out nine and walking four, despite feeling pain in his back while fielding a ground ball in the second inning.
"I felt like a dog bit me in the back, but after I stood up and stretched I felt a lot better," he said.
Before the game, manager Dusty Baker was surprised to learn that Zambrano played in a 40-minute scrimmage with the Chicago Fire soccer team Thursday. The right-handed Zambrano was supposed to serve only as an honorary captain in an event staged for the media, but started the game as a midfielder and ended it playing goal -- making five saves in about 15 minutes, one with his pitching hand.
"That was fun," Zambrano said. "I wasn't playing like we were trying to win the world championship or the World Cup ... just take it easy."
No doubt Baker would have had a different reaction if Zambrano, who regularly does stretching exercises for his sometimes-troublesome back, had aggravated the problem while playing another sport in-season.
"It was supposed to be a promotional thing, but it's hard to be out there and be good at it and not do something," said Baker, who wouldn't have knowingly allowed Zambrano to play. "It's too late now, but I'm sure they won't have any other promotions."
The Cubs are five games under .500 and out of postseason contention, but at least they can count on beating the Pirates, who are two losses from a 13th consecutive losing season. Chicago is 10-3 against Pittsburgh this season and 23-8 over the past two seasons.
Chicago is assured of its fifth consecutive winning season against the Pirates, the first time that has occurred in one of the NL's oldest rivalries since 1913-19, when the Cubs had winning records in seven consecutive seasons. They have won six in a row in Pittsburgh, where they have played .500 or better every season since PNC Park opened in 2001.
The Pirates, who have lost 50 of 85 since they were 30-30 on June 11, dropped their eighth in nine games and their 11th in 13 games -- the kind of late-season slump that can get a manager fired. The Pirates have not exercised their 2006 club option on Lloyd McClendon, who has yet to have a winning season since taking over in 2001.
Regardless, McClendon is giving frequent starts to the seven Pirates rookies who have made their major-league debuts this season, and will keep doing so. He bumped veteran starter Josh Fogg from the rotation Saturday to give more starts to rookies Paul Maholm and Zach Duke.
"We're making progress," he said. "Is it showing up in the standings? No, but it's not like we're not making progress."
Backed by hundreds of chanting fans in town for Saturday night's Notre Dame-Pitt football game, the Cubs chased Dave Williams (10-11) by scoring twice in each of the first two innings. Jeromy Burnitz had a run-scoring double in the first and Henry Blanco doubled ahead of RBI doubles by Jerry Hairston and Ronny Cedeno in the second.
Williams skipped a start after losing 6-3 to the Cardinals on Aug. 25 with what McClendon called shoulder fatigue, but struggled again at home, where he is 3-7 with a 6.68 ERA. On the road, he is 7-4 with a 2.65 ERA.
The Cubs kept adding runs after getting four runs and five hits against Williams in two innings, with Zambrano starting a two-run fourth with a single and hitting an RBI double in the fifth. Matt Murton hit his second career homer and Blanco added his fifth of the season in the seventh against Mike Gonzalez.
"Sometimes I get lucky and hit some pitches," Zambrano said. "I don't try to hit the ball like (Todd) Walker does, just try to make contact."
- The Pirates lost their seventh in a row at home, where they are 0-2 on a six-game homestand after going 1-6 during their previous homestand Aug. 22-28. They have never lost eight in a row at PNC Park.
- The Pirates are 3-12 at home since July 24.
- Zambrano is 7-2 in his career against Pittsburgh.