This season has had plenty of strange moments, and the Cubs can add the seventh inning to the bloopers reel.
The Cubs had taken a 2-1 lead on back-to-back RBI doubles by Marlon Byrd and Aramis Ramirez in the sixth. Sean Marshall (6-4) took over for Zambrano in the seventh and walked Miguel Tejada, then gave up three straight singles, including an RBI single by Ryan Ludwick, which tied the game. Chase Headley singled and, one out later, Will Venable hit a two-run single to chase Marshall.
Then it got bizarre. Chris Denorfia bounced a grounder to Ramirez at third, and he threw to catcher Koyie Hill, who chased Headley back toward third and tagged him out. Venable had scampered to third on the rundown. As Hill walked away from third, he appeared to have called time. But the umpires didn't recognize it. No one was covering at home, and Venable scored on what was ruled a fielder's choice.
"You have to put your arms up to stop play," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "[Hill] put his wrist up, and the umpire didn't acknowledge it. You've got to get your hands up and make sure the umpires know it's 'time out.'"
Padres third-base coach Glenn Hoffman told Venable he had a window.
"I noticed it," Venable said, "but it wasn't until [Hoffman] nonchalantly came over and confirmed it. It ended up being a closer play at the plate than I thought. It was a great heads-up call by Hoffy."
First baseman Xavier Nady recognized what was happening and tried to cover home.
"I was trying -- he's a lot faster than I am," Nady said of Venable. "I didn't know what was going on. I bolted, and it wasn't quite enough."
Hill said he made the same gesture he usually does.
"I think in that situation I need to be more emphatic about it just to make sure, because you've got guys scattered all over the field," Hill said. "Credit [Nady] for getting to home plate, because he's holding a guy on and he has to stay put at first."
Hill's plan was to call time, then go to the mound to check on pitcher Justin Berg.
"What's frustrating is it wasn't a lack of concentration or just cluelessness," Hill said. "It just happened. I felt I asked for time with the same gesture I always use."
The Padres' rally resulted in a no-decision for Zambrano, who was in line for a win. Making his first start at Wrigley since being reinstated from the restricted list, he gave up one run over six innings, walked six and struck out one.
"I felt good early in the game," Zambrano said. "It was like my early games in the big leagues when I walked a lot of guys, but I was able to calm myself when I had to. I walked the first guy and I was able to get a ground ball for a double play or fly ball.
"With men on base, I was able to be more aggressive," he said. "[Pitching coach Larry Rothschild] told me in the fourth inning, if I want, just put the leadoff hitter on first base and start pitching. I felt good the whole game, and my sinker was running good and my offspeed."
Speaking of early games, Friday is Zambrano's baseball "birthday." He made his Major League debut on Aug. 20, 2001, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Brewers, taking the loss. He is the longest-tenured Cubs player and lost another veteran teammate Wednesday with the trade of Derrek Lee to the Braves.
"It's hard to see people who played with you for a long time go," Zambrano said. "Whatever the team thinks is good for the team -- and we need for the team to be better and in a good position for next year -- is good for me."
While the outing was an improvement, Zambrano still has work to do. He's failed to get past the sixth in his last three starts and has given up 15 hits and walked 15 over 16 2/3 innings.
"He's got real good movement, and he's throwing a few more breaking balls and he's using his split finger and a cut fastball," Piniella said. "Basically, I think the velocity will come. One run over six innings, you can't fault that at all. It was a good performance. If he gets his command a little early, he can go much deeper in the game."