Jose Tabata hit an RBI double with one out in the ninth inning to lift the Pirates to a 2-1 victory over the Cubs for their eighth win in 10 meetings this season. Chicago was short-handed, playing with a 24-man roster because of Zambrano's suspension. That will change on Tuesday, when the pitcher is switched to the restricted list as he goes for professional help.
The Cubs planned on calling up a pitcher to take Zambrano's place. But they needed another when John Grabow came up lame in the seventh.
"Let me tell you what happened today -- we're one pitcher short and we get one pitcher hurt," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, in need of reinforcements. "If this game goes 12 innings, I don't know [what we'd do]."
It didn't. With the game tied at 1 in the ninth against Andrew Cashner (0-2), Ryan Doumit singled to right and moved up on Ronny Cedeno's sacrifice. Pinch-hitter Ryan Church walked, and Cashner was lifted for Carlos Marmol. Tabata then doubled to center to drive in Doumit.
"You don't want to give up a double with men on base," Marmol said. "It happens."
Both Doumit and Church hesitated on the bases, apparently unsure whether Tyler Colvin, who had just switched from right to center, was going to catch the ball in the gap.
"I wasn't sure whether to tag up there or not," Doumit said. "With the wind swirling in Chicago here, you never know what's going on. I kind of got caught in the middle. As I was rounding third, I saw [catcher Geovany] Soto kind of gearing up like he might be catching the ball, so I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I kind of got caught in between. Fortunately, I got there first."
Paul Maholm (5-6) picked up the win, giving up one run on seven hits over eight innings. The Pirates snapped their six-game losing streak and handed the Cubs their 29th one-run game of the season, most in the Major Leagues. Chicago is 11-18 in those games.
"It's frustrating from an offensive standpoint," Ryan Theriot said. "You want to get the job done so bad. I think everybody in here feels the same way -- they want to be the guy who pops the seal and gets the ball rolling. It's not for lack of effort. The effort's there, and it's not working out right now."
Aramis Ramirez singled to lead off the second and reached third one out later on Soto's double that dropped between Lastings Milledge and Bobby Crosby in shallow right. Crosby, whose head collided with Milledge's right shoulder, was shaken up on the play and left the game one inning later. Ramirez scored on Starlin Castro's fielder's choice.
With one out in the third, Tabata walked and stole second before scoring one out later on Andrew McCutchen's triple that sailed over Colvin in right field to tie the game.
Chicago starter Randy Wells struggled with his mechanics again, especially on his changeup and slider. He gave up one run on three hits and four walks over six innings.
"My focus going into tonight was try to pitch deep in the ballgame and keep the pitch count down, and I did the exact opposite," Wells said.
On the bright side, rookie Brian Schlitter made a good first impression in his Major League debut. He replaced Grabow, who had to leave with a sprained left knee, and struck out both batters he faced.
"It was a little overwhelming, but in that situation, I didn't have time to let my emotions get the best of me," said Schlitter, a Chicago-area native who had to get tickets for 20 friends and family.
The Cubs missed an opportunity with one out in the seventh when Castro doubled and moved up on pinch-hitter Jeff Baker's single. But Theriot grounded into a double play.
"It was huge," Maholm said. "Theriot is a little pest up there, and luckily I got him to hit it right to Ronny [at shortstop]. That was huge and I think that was a big momentum shift to us."
All these one-run games have to be wearing on the Cubs' nerves.
"It's better than six-, seven-, eight-run games when you're on the losing end of that," Wells said. "The goal for a pitcher in the starting rotation is to give the team quality innings and see where you come out of it. I know it hurts -- you never want to lose close games like this. We have to keep battling and try to come out on top."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.