07/02/06 7:43 PM ET
Zambrano represents Cubs as All-Star
Fiery right-hander makes second trip to Midsummer Classic
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Zambrano will be the Cubs' lone All-Star representative, making his second trip to the Midsummer Classic, to be played in Pittsburgh on July 11.
The right-hander, who also pitched in the 2004 All-Star Game, is 7-3 with a 3.33 ERA after beating the Chicago White Sox, 15-11, on Sunday. Zambrano gave up seven runs on seven hits over six-plus innings while striking out six, and also hit his third home run of the season, a two-run shot in the first. Big Z is the first Cubs pitcher to hit three homers in a season since Fergie Jenkins belted six in 1971.
"It's an honor to represent the Cubs and go there," Zambrano said. "My first year, two years ago, I enjoyed that. My family did also. Hopefully, I can be in the Home Run Derby."
We're not sure if he was kidding. One thing is certain, Zambrano is deserving.
"He's been huge," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said of Zambrano. "He's our horse, he's our No. 1. Thank God he stayed healthy, because if he gets hurt, we're in trouble."
Zambrano was 6-1 with a 1.93 ERA in May and June, and ranks among the National League leaders in strikeouts with 118. He flirted with a no-hitter June 5 against Houston, throwing eight shutout innings before giving up one hit.
"When I first got here three, four years ago, I said he might end up being the best," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of the right-hander.
A workhorse, Zambrano has pitched into the sixth inning in all but two of his starts, and his 760 innings of work over the past four seasons ranks fifth in the Major Leagues. Zambrano also has registered double-digit strikeouts twice this season, including a 12 K game April 24 against Florida. He is fifth in the Majors with 502 strikeouts since the start of the 2004 season.
"He's the most deserving guy in my opinion," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. "We're not playing good enough baseball to send three or four guys. We have three, four guys who could go. The All-Star Game is about winning now. I think hands down, no question, Z's done more to help this team win than anybody, and he deserves the opportunity."
Asked if he'll be lonely going to the game in Pittsburgh without any of his teammates, Zambrano quipped: "I will take my family."
"Tell him I've got some All-Star tickets for him," Barrett said.
The right-hander is now 6-1 in his last 10 starts following a Cubs loss, including Sunday's game.
"Big Z is getting better," Baker said. "You have to have a guy like that on your staff who stops the bleeding and heals the wound. He's done that all year long."
Zambrano has had quite the season. He began the year pitching for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic and now will be headed to the All-Star Game.
"Anytime you get that kind of news, it's like when you're in Triple-A and you've never played in the big leagues and you go to the big leagues," Zambrano said. "You go and get excited and celebrate with your family. Like I said, it's an honor to be in the All-Star Game. I feel good, and what can I say? Thank God for everything he gave to me."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.