Zambrano shines under injury's shadow

Zambrano shines under injury's shadow

ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Zambrano has a blister on his right index finger. He might miss a start. Nomar Garciaparra will be sidelined a lot longer.

Zambrano gave up five hits over 8 2/3 innings to lead Chicago to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday night, but the Cubs may have lost Garciaparra for an extended time because of an injury to his left groin.

Garciaparra was hurt in the third inning after taking two steps out of the batter's box trying to run out a ground ball.

"We're watching the ball and then we turned around to see how close it would be to first base, and he was down on the ground," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Everybody was just sick about it."

Garciaparra was carried off the field and into the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. He hobbled with some assistance the rest of the way.

The Cubs will have more details on Thursday after Garciaparra undergoes an MRI scan. Asked if he thought it was torn, Garciaparra said, "That's my fear."

"When I left the box, I don't know if my front foot kind of slipped coming out of the box," Garciaparra said. "Right when I took that first step, I felt my groin just go. That's when I went straight down. It was pretty painful. I've strained my groin before, but I've never felt anything like this before."

"We've only played less than a month and lost a second baseman and a shortstop," Baker said. "Fortunately for us, we've got guys here. Everybody's been wondering when [Jerry] Hairston and Neifi [Perez] were going to play. You can never have enough good players. Fortunately we have those guys."

"I don't feel happy about this," Perez said. "I know Nomar is the shortstop on the team. I can't replace him."

The Cubs are even more fortunate to have Zambrano on their side. Albert Pujols spoiled Zambrano's shutout bid with a solo home run with two out in the Cardinals' sixth. Zambrano (2-0) walked one and struck out three for the win, snapping the Cardinals' win streak at five. He also helped himself in the second with his first career triple, driving in Michael Barrett, who had singled.

"He's got good [stuff]," St. Louis' Larry Walker said of Zambrano. "The ball moves all over the place.

"He got ahead of hitters, pitched a [heck] of a game," Walker said. "He went out there to get us out and that's what he did."

Zambrano exited after giving up a two-out double to Scott Rolen in the ninth. Perez had signaled to the bench about the blister.

   Carlos Zambrano  /   P
Born: 06/01/81
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 255 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R

"I made eye contact with the manager and said he can't go anymore," Perez said.

"That was the right decision," Zambrano said about being pulled. "It was a game where I was worried about my finger. When you worry about anything else, and you have to close the game, that was the right decision.

"It's bad now, but I don't think I'll miss my next start," he said.

LaTroy Hawkins finished the game for his third save, and now is 3-for-4 in save situations.

Garciaparra's status is uncertain. Because of the nature of his position, he needs to be able to move and bend and contort. First step is the MRI. He'll likely be placed on the disabled list Thursday, joining teammate Todd Walker, who is out with a sprained left knee.

"We both didn't want to limp around together," Garciaparra said. "The team can definitely overcome this. You saw a great game today. Zambrano did unbelievable. They're going to keep doing a good job. Hopefully we'll give each other support, and rehab together and get back as soon as we can."

"It's not going to be easy," Baker said. "We still have to find a way. Nobody's going to give you any consolation if you have guys hurt. We just have to find a way."

On Wednesday, Jeromy Burnitz hit a two-out RBI single in the Cubs' first. After Zambrano's RBI triple made it 2-0, Derrek Lee walked with one out in the Cubs' fifth, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Aramis Ramirez's double.

This, the first meeting between the two Central Division rivals, was played in front of a sellout crowd of 44,855 at Busch Stadium. A couple fans in the upper deck didn't get to see the end. They were escorted out during the Cubs ninth after a fight in which punches were thrown.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.