Zambrano does it all in win
The new-and-improved Carlos Zambrano returned to the scene of the crime on Monday, looking a lot like the Zambrano of old.

In his first start at Wrigley Field since knocking Michael Barrett around, Zambrano homered and allowed three hits over eight innings in a 2-1 win over Houston.

"I think Big Z is back on track," Zambrano said, speaking in the third person, just like the old days.

Zambrano won his second straight start for the first time this season and improved to 7-5, or 2-0, as he pronounced, since shedding his prefight skin and starting the season all over.

He allowed only one unearned run in a 128-pitch outing—on Mike Fontenot's throwing error in the eighth—and departed with some classic showboating that left the Astros grimacing and the crowd of 37,947 in stitches.

After retiring Craig Biggio on a long fly to left to end the eighth with the tying run on, Zambrano hopped off the field like he was winning the sack race at the company picnic. The 'Jumping Z' routine was in stark contrast to the 'Angry Z' shtick that was on display most of the night.

"I [show] emotion on every pitch," Zambrano said. "I know hitters don't like that. It's good to sometimes look at the hitters back … and show them I'm angry, and that's what I did today."

Despite a 4.89 earned-run average, Zambrano is only one win behind Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, who leads the NL with eight wins.

Zambrano's third-inning homer left him one behind Fergie Jenkins' club record of 13 career homers for a pitcher, and he's now 11-4 over his career in June.

"Next year I'll start thinking that every month is June," Zambrano said.

The Cubs took a 1-0 lead off Woody Williams in the second on Fontenot's two-out double and a run-scoring single by Ryan Theriot.

Seven years ago this week, Fontenot and Theriot were the double-play combo at LSU, leading the Tigers to the College World Series in Omaha. Monday they were together at second and short for the first time as major-leaguers.

"We played together two years in college and played against each other in high school," Fontenot said. "We've known each other for a while, so it's fun to play together in the big leagues. I'm sure this crossed our minds back then. Now that it's happened, it's a real blessing."

Zambrano's homer made it 2-0, and after the Astros scored the unearned run in the eighth, Ryan Dempster came on to a loud chorus of boos. Dempster ignored the crowd and pitched a scoreless ninth, posting his 13th save.

The Cubs are 4-13 in one-run games, which remains the worst record in that category in the major leagues.

Manager Lou Piniella hopes it won't stay that way the rest of the season.

"It's the law of averages," he said.

So it all evens out in the long run?

"I hope so," he said. "It really should."

Asked if he'd ever managed a team before that performed so poorly in one-run games, Piniella shot back: "Check the records, and you'll answer your own question."

A check of the records shows that of Piniella's 18 seasons of managing before 2007, his teams finished 10 or more games under .500 in one-run games only once, in 1998, when his Seattle club was 10-20 in one-run affairs while finishing with a 76-85 record.

Even while compiling a 200-285 record in three seasons in Tampa Bay, Piniella's Devil Rays were 69-72 in one-run games in 2003-05.

Piniella's 1992 Reds team went 34-24 in one-run games en route to a 90-72 record, a far cry from his '07 Cubs, who have already lost more one-run games than his 2001 Mariners, who finished 26-12 in one-run games while tying the Cubs' all-time record of 116 wins.

"Winning is an attitude," Piniella said. "That's all it is."

psullivan@tribune.com