That's a good sign, because it means Zambrano plans on staying with the Cubs. Contract talks between the team and the right-hander are ongoing, and the pending sale of the Cubs by the Tribune Co., announced hours before the game, has nothing to do with his potential new deal.
"I have to pitch my game anyway," Zambrano said, dismissing any notion that the talks are a distraction. "I'm making good money this year. If I pitch good, I'll make more money. I don't worry about that, I don't worry about the contract. I just want to have a good season. The money will come."
As far as the players were concerned, Zambrano's near deal and the Tribune Co.'s announcement that it will sell the team after the 2007 season belong in the business section.
"That had no bearing on the game," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. "It was kind of a news flash before the game that we thought about for 30 seconds."
Blame Aaron Harang (1-0). The Reds right-hander served up six hits over seven innings, but the Cubs couldn't seem to string them together at the right time. The only run was unearned, and aided by a throwing error by center fielder Ryan Freel.
Zambrano is an emotional pitcher. He could've been a little anxious.
"I don't know if he was over-amped, but he certainly didn't pitch very well," Piniella said. "His command was off. He threw almost 50 percent balls and strikes. Of the five runs he gave up, three of them were bases on balls and a hit batter. It wasn't a very good performance."
Zambrano (0-1) would agree. Of the 92 pitches, he threw 47 balls, 45 strikes. The right-hander led the National League in walks in 2006, and started the game where he left off by walking Freel, the leadoff batter, on four straight pitches. Dunn then launched a 1-2 cutter that didn't cut into the right-field seats to put the Reds ahead, 2-0. Dunn connected again with one out in the Reds' third, a towering 421-foot blast off a sinker that didn't sink, to make it 3-0.
"Those were two pitches that I released bad, and he's a good hitter," Zambrano said.
The Reds loaded the bases in the fifth on a walk, hit batter and single. One out later, Zambrano walked Scott Hatteberg to force in a run, and Alex Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly to go ahead 5-1.
"I made two or three mistakes in the game, and I paid for those," Zambrano said. "I was feeling great today. I wish I could feel all year long like I felt today and just make my pitches and get better command. Hopefully, there isn't the same umpire every day."
Wait -- is he saying home plate umpire Randy Marsh squeezed him?
"No, the only problem here is me," Zambrano said. "I have to have better command. I think I will work on my command in my next bullpen session and hopefully we can do something about it."
Cubs catcher Michael Barrett didn't want to dis Marsh either.
"I felt Zambrano made some really good pitches," Barrett said. "To keep the other team to five runs in this ballpark, especially on a day like today, is a quality start, in my opinion. Their hitters took advantage of some mistakes we made. We didn't give him a chance to get a lead. We couldn't get that one big hit or one big inning to get Harang off his comfort zone."
The game marked Piniella's return after one year in the television booth, and he maintained a positive outlook. Just because they lost the first game, it doesn't mean they'll lose the next 161.
"We are going to get off to a fast start," Piniella said. "We went out and played today, we used a few of our relievers, they threw the ball well, we played well defensively. We just didn't hit with men in scoring position, and our starting pitcher wasn't as sharp as we've seen him in the past. It's just one ballgame. We'll come out and try it again on Wednesday."
Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs' new $136 million leadoff man, wasn't discouraged either.
"I'm not worried," Soriano said. "I believe in my teammates. I think we're better than that."