The baseball that Carlos Zambrano clobbered for a home run didn’t stop traveling when it landed in the outfield bleachers. The fan who caught it chucked it out on the field, Shane Victorino picked it up and threw it into the Phillies bullpen, and from there it was tossed up into the Marlins bullpen for safekeeping.
But someone, most likely a Phillies reliever, scrawled a message on the ball before handing it over.
“Oh my!!!” it said in red ink.
Even the Phillies were impressed.
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The baseball was in Zambrano’s locker after the 5-1 victory, a win that elevated the Marlins into a virtual tie for first with the Washington Nationals, only a few percentage points behind.
“As a pitcher in the National League, you have to be able to bunt, run and hit, and I take that seriously,” Zambrano said. “Anytime I’m on the mound, I feel like a pitcher. But when I’m in the box, I feel like a hitter.”
Though he was sick with the flu, coughing between pitches and fighting a headache throughout, Zambrano did it all on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park as the Marlins took the weekend series from the injury-depleted Phillies.
Zambrano’s solo blast off Joe Blanton in the third put him into a seventh-place tie with Bob Gibson and John Clarkson on the all-time list for most home runs by a pitcher with 24. Zambrano dropped down a beautiful bunt in the seventh that he beat out for a hit. And he all but shut down the Phillies, allowing just a run on four hits over 7 2/3 innings.
“It’s the first time it happened to me in the big leagues, first time I pitched with a cold,” he said.
“I was coughing during the game, and I had a little headache, but my arm felt good. That’s the most important thing.”
Said Jose Reyes, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games with an infield hit and an RBI double: “Hopefully, every start he has he’s going to be sick and throw the ball like that.”
During one stretch from the second inning through the seventh, Zambrano retired 18 of 19 batters. Zambrano, who is now 4-3 with a 2.81 ERA, is turning out to be a steal for the Marlins, who gave up Chris Volstad to the Cubs to acquire him. Volstad is now in the minors after starting out 0-6 for Chicago.
“I told the Marlins, ‘I don’t know what kind of performance we’re going to get from him. But on the field and off the field, I think I will control him,’ ” said manager Ozzie Guillen, who convinced the Marlins to trade for Zambrano despite the pitcher’s volatile temper. “... I knew the type of guy we were getting, and that’s why we take a chance on him.”
Zambrano has been nothing but a well-behaved angel for the Marlins, and he has been a blessing for them on the field.
On Sunday, he put the Marlins on the board first with an opposite-field shot to left-center.
“I hit it on the ‘queso,’ as we say in Spanish,” Zambrano said. “I’m not a small man. I’m a big man, and every time I hit the ball good, it will travel far.”
Reyes laughed when it was noted that Zambrano now has one more home run than he has this season. Reyes said the Marlins dugout erupted when Big Z’s ball left the park.
“Everybody went crazy,” Reyes said. “Everybody knows he’s a good hitter. He’s got a lot of power. The ball’s going to go a long way. It’s unbelievable to see a pitcher hit an opposite-field home run like it’s nothing.”
Hanley Ramirez, who belted two out on Saturday, hammered another home run — his 11th of the season — one inning later.
The Marlins added three insurance runs in the seventh, with Zambrano’s bunt — which was meant as a sacrifice attempt — placed so close to the third-base line that he beat it out easily.
Reyes followed with a two-run double, and Zambrano sprinted home from third with the Marlins’ final run on reliever Chad Qualls’ wild pitch.
Zambrano carried a shutout into the eighth before the Phillies scored on a single by Juan Pierre, who had three of the four hits off Zambrano.
“We’re using everything we’ve got right now to win games,” Zambrano said of the Marlins.