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Baseball Sat Jun 06 2009

Zambrano's Big Win, Home Run

It seems as if every Carlos Zambrano start has become some sort of sight to see. Will he blow up? Will he get injured? Will he go on a seven minute tirade that climaxes with beating a Gatorade machine to death and a six game suspension? 2009 has been anything but low key for Zambrano. Friday night, the story line was already in place as Zambrano went for his 100th career win - a somewhat significant milestone in a pitcher's career. In the history of baseball, well over 500 pitchers have recorded 100 or more wins. So while it is a noteworthy achievement, it doesn't put a pitcher in any sort of elite group. But no moment is mundane with Zambrano on the mound and he won his 100th game with a flair that few pitchers have achieved before him.

Usually a switch hitter, Zambrano batted from the right side of the plate against the right-handed pitcher Micah Owings during the fifth inning and hit the first pitch over the center field wall. The solo home run put the Cubs up 2-0 at the time and would ultimately be the deciding factor as the game ended in a 2-1 Cubs win. The obvious flair here is that while the rest of his team was struggling to produce offense, the only other run came on a bases loaded walk in the first, Zambrano put the team on his shoulders and clinched his 100th win for himself. As Cubs fans, we are used to the team's number one starter routinely hitting home runs, but I do not think we realize the historical perspective of what he does at the plate. We've heard about how his batting practice sessions are supposedly a sight to behold but it often comes off as only a humorous story of a pitcher who actually tries to hit. Zambrano's home run yesterday was the 18th of his career, tying Cy Young for 14th most home runs hit by a pitcher in baseball history. For some perspective, Zambrano has appeared in 240 games in his career while Cy Young pitched in 906. His 18 home runs is the most by any active pitcher and the last pitcher to hit more than 18 career home runs was Bob Gibson, 40 years ago.

Some people will point out that Zambrano does not walk. That he is always looking for the home run. And it is true; Zambrano only has six career walks, a third of his home run total. But while his plate discipline is poor, what pitcher is known for their plate discipline? It's been 40 years since we have seen a pitcher hit as many home runs as Zambrano has and who knows when we will see it again? And after his 100th win last night, Zambrano announced that he would like to retire after his contract is up in 2012. 100 wins is a nice milestone but two and a half years is not enough time for him to make a dent in the all time wins list. It is, however, enough time for him to becoming one of the top ten home run hitting pitchers of all time. Over the course of this, and the next two seasons, I will always be rooting for Zambrano to get wins first but I will also be counting his home runs second.

 
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