Zambrano struck out seven and helped himself by hitting a tiebreaking solo home run in the fourth inning on Sunday to lead the Cubs to a 7-3 victory over the Cardinals in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.
"I always say anything I can do to contribute to my team to win a ballgame is special for me," Zambrano said.
Micah Hoffpauir belted a three-run homer, his eighth of the season, to back Zambrano (5-4), who picked up his first win since June 5. The right-hander, who was 0-2 in six starts since his last "W," had joked that he needed to find a store where he could buy a win.
"I've been pitching good lately, but I didn't get any run support," Zambrano said of his previous starts, "but today was different. Sooner or later, you will get the win, and today was a big one against St. Louis. That's what we're looking for."
The two teams close the first half with a night game at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central.
Hoffpauir connected in the first, driving in Ryan Theriot, who had doubled, and Alfonso Soriano, who walked. Soriano's 10-pitch at-bat was key as he worked the count full. Hoffpauir then smacked the first pitch from Kyle Lohse (4-5) into the right-field bleachers.
"That was huge," Hoffpauir said of Soriano's at-bat. "He saw a lot of pitches, and it gives you an idea of what the guy's throwing. For me, I've never seen Lohse."
Why did Hoffpauir jump on the first pitch?
"I've always been the kind of person who says, 'See the ball, hit the ball,'" Hoffpauir said. "If it's in the zone, I'll try to do as much as I can. Lucky for me, I got it enough in the wind and it got out."
Soriano batted third because both Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez were not in the lineup for the first game.
"I'm comfortable anywhere in the lineup," Soriano said. "More important, like I say all the time, is to play the game. It doesn't matter where I bat in the lineup."
The Cardinals tied the game in the third when Albert Pujols hit a two-run double and scored two batters later on Joe Thurston's single. Zambrano's homer made it 4-3. It was the 19th of his career, which is a franchise record. The previous mark was 13, set by Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins.
Zambrano loves to hit. Could he be an everyday hitter some day, like a designated hitter?
"No," Zambrano said, while nodding "yes."
"My job is to pitch," he said. "That's the thing I know how to do best. I think being an everyday player, hitting is tough. Pitchers study you and know how to pitch to you. If they figured out how to pitch to me, I don't think I would hit that many home runs."
After the home run, Zambrano struck out four of the next six batters he faced.
"Actually, he got his second wind and he started to throw the ball with a little more intensity and had more velocity and more movement on his pitches," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "It was a good performance."
The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the seventh against Todd Wellemeyer, who then exited. Pinch-hitter Sam Fuld bounced a ground ball to second baseman Skip Schumaker, who threw home for the force, but the throw was high. Home-plate umpire Randy Marsh ruled that catcher Jason LaRue didn't get his foot back on the plate, and a run scored. Koyie Hill's grounder then skipped between Pujols' legs for another error, and two more runs came home.
"He probably was trying to hurry and get his feet in position, I would assume, to turn a double play," Piniella said of Pujols. "He rarely makes a mistake like that. It came at an opportune time for us."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.