Carlos Zambrano has a new team and a new attitude, and on Monday night he displayed the dazzling pitching that has been overshadowed in recent years by tantrums and suspensions.
Zambrano pitched a three-hitter for his first win of the season and Giancarlo Stanton extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a two-run homer, leading the Miami Marlins to their seventh straight win with a 4-0 victory over the Houston Astros.
The three-time All-Star had pitched well this season after a trade from the Cubs, entering the game with a 2.53 ERA in five starts, but had yet to get a win. Zambrano said he didn’t get upset in that span thanks to a life-changing, religious experience he had in Venezuela last season when he was suspended after he was ejected from a game, cleaned out his locker and talked about retiring.
"Now I’m pitching smiling because God is in my heart," he said. "When God is in your heart … nothing is frustrating, nothing can bother you."
Stanton’s homer into the Crawford Boxes in left field put Miami up 2-0 in the fourth inning and gives him six home runs and 12 RBIs during his streak. Logan Morrison walked with one out before Stanton went deep.
John Buck extended the lead to 3-0 when he sent the first pitch of the fifth inning into the right field stands. Hanley Ramirez added a solo shot, which bounced off the train tracks above the left center field wall, in the ninth inning to make it 4-0.
It was the first complete game and first shutout for Zambrano since a two-hit shutout against San Francisco on Sept. 25, 2009.
The Marlins didn’t know what to expect when Zambrano joined the team, but he quickly made a great impression.
"So many people gave up on him for one reason or another," Buck said. "But since he’s walked in here, he’s been nothing but awesome from every way you can think of it … to see him pitch so well and benefit on the field is cool because he’s been through a lot, he’s endured a lot and he’s kind of a favorite in this clubhouse."
He’s also been helped by the support of manager Ozzie Guillen and his new teammates.
"I think these guys welcomed me with a lot of patience and a lot of love and that’s what everybody needs," Zambrano said.
Zambrano (1-2), whose only no-hitter came against the Astros, struck out a season-best nine and never allowed a batter past first base. He walked one and hit two batters while improving to 10-4 in 19 appearances at Minute Maid Park.
Guillen had an easy answer to why Zambrano was so good on Monday.
"Strikes, strikes," he said. "Everything was under control. The split finger was effective, his fastball was coming out of his hands very well and command. When Carlos commands it is very good."
Brian Bogusevic singled to left field with no outs in the ninth inning, but Miami turned its third double play of the game on a grounder by Jordan Schafer. Zambrano then struck out Jose Altuve to end it.
Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez (3-3) gave up a season-high four earned runs in eight-plus innings. He entered the game having won three straight and had allowed just three runs combined in those starts.
"Anytime guys start hitting Wandy, you are surprised," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "Whether they are home runs or whatever, he’s been throwing the ball so well, and to give up three in one game, that’s surprising."
Zambrano hit Schafer on the right leg with a pitch in the sixth inning. Schafer fell to his knees writhing in pain before getting up and walking gingerly to first base while talking with Mills and a trainer. Schafer said after the game that he was sore, but OK.
Altuve grounded into a double play to get Zambrano out of that inning. He sailed through the next two frames, retiring six in a row with two strikeouts, to reach the ninth.
Zambrano plunked Altuve on the left elbow with one out in the first inning. But J.D. Martinez struck out and was called for batter’s interference to put Altuve out and end the inning.
Houston’s first hit came when Travis Buck singled to start the third inning, but Zambrano faced the minimum in that inning thanks to a double play before a flyout by Rodriguez.
NOTES: Guillen became annoyed in his pregame chat with reporters when a Houston reporter asked him if the uproar over his comments about Fidel Castro, for which he was suspended five games, had died down in the last month. He told the reporter to "grow up" while including a couple of curse words. … Guillen said he’s hoping Heath Bell, who was demoted from the closer’s role last week, can return to that role in the future. "We’re a better ball club if Bell is our closer," he said. "That’s no doubt and we need him to be our closer."… RHP Aneury Rodriguez will be recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday to start against Miami’s Anibal Sanchez.