He walked one, hit a batter and struck out 10 on 110 pitches, 73 of which were strikes. Zambrano did it on 11 days of rest after missing a turn in the rotation with shoulder discomfort. The normal workhorse had thrown more than six innings once since July, which made his Sunday performance all the more stunning.
"It's a great feeling, and it's a feeling that you can't describe," Zambrano said. "To throw a no-hitter is good, man. This is one of the few things in baseball that you most enjoy."
The Astros had two close calls. David Newhan hit a line shot that was snared by first baseman Derrek Lee in the fifth. In the eighth, Geoff Blum hit a fly ball deep toward the right-field corner, but Mark DeRosa tracked it down. Darin Erstad went down swinging to end it.
"I was watching the scoreboard every inning," Zambrano said. "In the ninth inning, when I came out, the crowd was all crazy, and that helped me a little bit. Thank God it was the eight, nine and the leadoff hitter [in the ninth], and I was able to dominate those three guys."
The Cubs and Astros played the game at Miller Park, home of the Brewers. Hurricane Ike postponed the three-game set in Houston, moving two of the games to Milwaukee and a third to be played the day after the regular season in Houston, if necessary. It marked the first no-hitter thrown at a field that is not normally a home field for either of the teams in the game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Cub, but many of the fans probably couldn't name the last Cubs pitcher to throw a no-no. Milt Pappas did it on Sept. 2, 1972, in an 8-0 victory over the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.
"I hope we won't be 36 years between no-hitters the next time," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Pappas was literally one pitch away from throwing the franchise's first perfect game that day. The right-hander had two outs in the ninth when he walked Larry Stahl on a 3-2 pitch for the only blemish on his line. Pappas then induced pinch-hitter Garry Jestadt to pop out to second base to preserve the no-hitter.
"I wanted that perfect game so badly," Pappas said after the game. "But I guess I shouldn't be greedy. The pitches were balls. They were borderline, but balls."
Pappas jumped ahead in the count, 1-2, to Stahl, who was pinch-hitting for reliever Al Severinsen. But the next three pitches, all sliders, were called balls by second-year umpire Bruce Froemming.
Stahl was the second batter all game to take three balls from Pappas, who struck out six while allowing only four fly balls to the outfield. In the ninth inning, it was one of those four flies that almost brought an end to the no-hit bid.
With a 1-1 count, leadoff hitter John Jeter popped a fly ball to shallow center. Center fielder Bill North slipped in trying to react, and it looked as if the ball would fall in for a hit. Fortunately for Pappas, left fielder Billy Williams had a read on the ball the entire time and was able to make a running catch for the out.
In the eighth, it was Pappas' defense that kept the no-hitter alive. Speedster Derrel Thomas sent a line drive ricocheting off the pitcher's glove. Pappas scrambled for the ball, which had rolled behind him, and fired it to first just ahead of Thomas for the final out of the inning.
Pappas' gem was the fourth no-hitter former Cub third baseman and current Cubs radio broadcaster Ron Santo was a part of. After the game, Santo admitted that Pappas' bittersweet effort was unique.
"This is the first time in my life I felt a letdown with a no-hitter," Santo said. "He came so close to a perfect game."
Pappas' no-no was the 12th in franchise history, and second of the season for the 1972 Cubs. On April 16, Burt Hooton no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies as part of a 4-0 win in only his fourth Major League game.
Don Cardwell threw a no-hitter in his Cubs debut on May 15, 1960, in a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Two Cubs pitchers have gone nine hitless innings before each allowed hits in the 10th. Under Major League Baseball rules, though, these are not no-hitters. Only if a pitcher completes a game without allowing a hit is it a no-hitter.
One of those two instances is worth mentioning. On May 2, 1917, Cubs pitcher Hippo Vaughn threw 9 1/3 innings of no-hit baseball against the Cincinnati Reds before giving up a single in the 10th to Larry Kopf. Cincinnati got another hit and scored the first run of the game later that inning.
Vaughn's no-hit bid was not the biggest story of the game, however, because Reds' pitcher Fred Toney was also in the midst of a no-hitter. Toney blanked the Cubs for all 10 innings and picked up the 1-0 win.
The game is the only one in MLB history where both teams were no-hit through nine innings.
Larry Corcoran threw the franchise's first three no-hitters while a member of the Chicago White Stockings. The first came on Aug. 19, 1880, in a 6-0 victory over the Boston Braves, and was followed two years later by a no-hitter against the Worcester Ruby Legs. In 1884, Corcoran threw his third hitless game, this time in a 6-0 over the Providence Grays.
Corcoran and Ken Holtzman are the only pitchers to throw multiple no-hitters for the Chicago franchise. Holtzman threw his first on August 19, 1969 in a 3-0 win over Atlanta. The second was part of a 1-0 win at Cincinnati on June 3, 1971, and was the Cubs' only involvement in a night game no-hitter.
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.