Zambrano's Chicago Cubs faced the Houston Astros at, of all places, Milwaukee's Miller Park. With Hurricane Ike making waves in the Gulf of Mexico, the Cubs and Astros relocated a series from Houston's Minute Maid Park to a "neutral" site 90 miles from Wrigley.
The result? On Sept. 14, Zambrano struck out 10 Astros in a 5-0 win, finishing one walk and one hit-by-pitch shy of a perfect game, in front of a spontaneous crowd of 23,441. It's safe to say at least 20,000 were Cubs fans.
"To throw a no-hitter is good, man," Zambrano said. "This is one of the few things in baseball that you most enjoy."
Every day from now to Spring Training, MLB.com/Live will air a classic game on Baseball's Best. Zambrano's no-hitter, the first at a neutral site, can be seen on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT.
Zambrano, a three-time All-Star, was in one of the worst funks of his career coming into the game. He had tossed one quality start in his last six outings and missed his previous turn in the rotation due to tendinitis in his pitching shoulder.
Something changed in those 12 days off. Zambrano sent down the first 10 straight before walking Michael Bourn in the fourth. Hunter Pence was hit by a pitch in the fifth and represented Houston's final baserunner.
"He had everything going," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "From the first few pitches of the ballgame, you knew his arm was live and the ball was coming out easy. It had good movement on it. He located for the most part the whole ballgame, and he used his split-finger and slider to keep the hitters honest. It was just a great game, and we needed that. He had been struggling. To do this, it's special. I'm very happy for him."
The effort didn't come without some great defense. Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee and right fielder Mark DeRosa hauled in line drives in the fifth and eighth, respectively. Zambrano couldn't lie. He knew what was on the line with every pitch.
"I was thinking [about it] the whole game," Zambrano said. "I was looking at the scoreboard every inning."
The Astros weren't making excuses, but their minds were elsewhere throughout the game. They didn't fly out of Houston until the morning of game day, flying out of a flooded, powerless city and leaving loved ones behind.
"I have no power at my house, no phone," Astros reliever Doug Brocail said. "I can't communicate with my wife and kids. Give credit to the guy. He threw a phenomenal game. But all I want is a bed right now."
The last Cubs pitcher to throw a no-hitter was Milt Pappas on Sept. 2, 1972. In other words, Zambrano's day was a long time coming.
"I hope we won't be 36 years between no-hitters the next time," Piniella said.
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less