The return of the pitchers' duel
Zambrano, Penny offer fans throwback performance
LOS ANGELES - The 2-1 game, once thought to be nearly extinct, has returned.
It was spotted again Tuesday night in Southern California. There was a time, not that long ago, if you said that you saw a 2-1 game people simply assumed that you were talking about soccer. Or they looked at you as if you had said that you had witnessed the landing of a UFO -- some glowing, circular craft piloted by little green men with tentacles and ray guns.
Come to think of it, the flying saucer may have been a slightly more credible story than the 2-1 game. But not right now. The low-scoring game, the pitchers' duel, the game in which a run is a precious and rare commodity is once again, if not prevalent, at least distinctly possible. What was formerly found only in the realm of memory once again can exist in the real baseball world.
It was reality Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, the visiting Cubs against the Dodgers. More to the point, it was Carlos Zambrano against Brad Penny, two right-handers who are large in stature, yet small in earned run average.
The record will show that the Cubs triumphed, 2-1. In fact, it took 10 innings for them to find that second and deciding run. So much the better for what was once referred to as the baseball purist. Watching the game without a rooting interest, this could be seen as a victory for anyone with an appreciation for terrific pitching, not to mention low-scoring drama.
Both Zambrano and Penny were superb, but Zambrano was a bit closer to unhittable. In fact, he was closer to perfection. If the Cubs catch everything there was to be caught, the story would have been a no-hitter. The Dodgers had one hit in eight innings off Zambrano, and that was a soft fly to left-center by Cesar Izturis that went for a double.
Cubs manager Dusty Baker said that center fielder Corey Patterson didn't see it. And left fielder Jason DuBois came a long way and made a sprawling attempt at a catch, but came up empty. This scored Hee-Seop Choi, who had reached via a passed ball on a strike three. You cannot score a run with much less contact than this.
Zambrano has had two other starts this season in which he allowed one hit.
"He's been flirting with it," Baker said of the no-hitter. "He's going to get it pretty soon. He was nasty."
Some people complain that Zambrano is too emotional. These are the same sorts of people who said that Sean Penn overacted in "Mystic River." Sometimes, a show of real emotion is what the character, or the game, demands. Or at least allows, OK?
Watching Carlos Zambrano over the course of several performances, you are not struck by the thought: "He is too emotional." You are struck by the thought: "He is too good for a lot of people to hit."
In fact, like the greats ones do, he gets particularly pumped up for this sort of game.
"Especially against a pitcher as good as Penny," Zambrano said. "Or this coming Sunday against [Jake] Peavy [of the Padres]. I really looked forward to it. I like to be challenged.
"And in a game like this, I have to be more aggressive. I have to be almost perfect."
Zambrano was almost perfect. And Penny was not far behind. In fact, on the scoreboard, Penny was not behind at all, leaving after eight innings with a 1-1 tie. Six hits, no walks, and, after a single and a double in the second, no inning in which the Cubs had more than one man on base. A stellar performance.
And of course, in a game of this sort, there had to be defensive gems. Izturis was not simply playing shortstop. He seemed to be fielding everything between second base and the left-field line. What's the category above Gold Glove?
And the Chicago shortstop, Neifi Perez, was not exactly short in department of defense, either. His full-out diving catch of a flare that Choi hit behind third should be a highlight reel mainstay.
How hard was it to score in this game? In the ninth, the Dodgers got a leadoff walk. The next hitter was their No. 3 in the order, J.D. Drew. This is allegedly your best guy, or he wouldn't be hitting third. Drew was asked to bunt. Twice. He failed. Twice. And then struck out.
The Cubs found the elusive second run in the 10th. Two singles and an error finally did it. The Dodgers' bullpen didn't exactly implode here, but again, the Cubs had the pitching edge.
Michael Wuertz allowed a leadoff walk in the ninth and then struck out three straight. He got the victory. Ryan Dempster hit the leadoff batter in the 10th. He didn't give up anything else, either, and got the save.
This would be one of those nights on which the standard wrapup would note that neither starting pitcher was involved in the decision. All right, but both were involved in a classic, low-scoring, tense, taut, dramatic, pitchers' evening at the park.
This night eventually belonged to the Cubs, but for the most part, it was ruled by the starting pitchers.
Yes, the 2-1 game is making a comeback. It is not a thing of the past. It is back, but it is still not easy to get, because you need two people pitching the way Carlos Zambrano and Brad Penny pitched Tuesday night.
Mike Bauman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.