Back in June, Carlos Zambrano made an unusual declaration: he was starting his season over.
07/30/2007 9:58 AM ET
Zambrano leads way for the Cubs
Any player can declare a new attitude or a fresh start, but it's a different thing to actually make it stick. Zambrano has done just that.
Now, Zambrano is enjoying what even he admits is perhaps the best stretch of his career, and on Sunday, he became the first 14-game winner in the Major Leagues in the Cubs' 6-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Just two wins short of his career high of 16 victories, Zambrano pitched the Cubs to within a half-game of the first-place Brewers by working 7 1/3 innings and giving up just two hits while fanning six. He also had three hits on the day to increase his batting average to .291.
Since declaring a new start to the season, Zambrano is 9-2 with an ERA of 1.41. Has he ever enjoyed such a run as this?
"I don't think so," Zambrano told MLB.com. "I think this is the best stretch I've ever had in my career. I feel good right now. Ever since I lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the last game of the first half, I feel comfortable on the mound, I feel confident. Hopefully I can keep doing a good job for my team."
His teammates see him rolling with that confidence.
"He's in a zone," said first baseman Derrek Lee. "When you score two runs in the first with Z on the mound, you feel pretty good about yourself. He's pitching great. Just keep him healthy and he'll carry us the rest of the way."
With a road record of 9-1 this year and a 27-7 record on the road in his last 45 starts away from Wrigley Field, Zambrano is a menace away from the friendly confines.
"I try to do the same job at home and away," Zambrano said.
His manager complimented Zambrano on what he has been able to achieve both at home and on the road.
"It's somewhat rare that you see that, but the good ones can win at home and on the road, and Zambrano is certainly that," said manager Lou Piniella.
Ty Wigginton joins 'Stros: The Houston Astros believe they have the right third baseman after acquiring Ty Wigginton from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for reliever Dan Wheeler Saturday.
Wigginton, who broke into the Majors with the Mets in 2002, also played with Pittsburgh before joining the Rays in 2006.
"He's the kind of player we like to have on this club," Houston general manager Tim Purpura told the Houston Chronicle. "He's a gamer; he's a guy who's got power and run production. He can play a couple of positions, although we see him primarily at third base. It helps us fill some of our needs as we move forward."
Before the trade, Wigginton ranked second on the Rays in home runs (16) and third in RBIs with 49.
Wheeler said he was somewhat surprised with the trade but believes the Astros are getting a good player in Wigginton. Wigginton started at third base for the Astros on Sunday and collected two hits.
"I was a little surprised," Wheeler said. "Obviously, this time of year you never know. You hear names flying around, so I guess you can't really be too surprised. They saw an opportunity to make this team better. Ty Wigginton is a good player. I played with him in the past in New York (with the Mets in 2003 and 2004), and he's a great guy and he has a chance to do some good things."
For their part, the Rays are pleased to bring in Wheeler.
"We really wanted to add somebody we felt could pitch in high-leverage situations late in the game, whether it be critical outs in the seventh inning, the eighth inning or the ninth inning," executive vice president Andrew Friedman told the St. Petersburg Times. "Danny's a guy that instantly helps a bullpen. He has experience pitching in pressure situations and has excelled in those roles."
Improved mechanics have Vizcaino on a roll: Luis Vizcaino had a rough start to the season, but since May 25, Vizcaino is 6-1 with a 0.95 ERA in 28 outings.
He may be the spark the Yankees bullpen will need during the final two months of the season.
"I have more confidence with my pitching now," Vizcaino told Newsday. "That came little by little."
Vizcaino said his mechanics were horrible early this season. He was throwing more from the side instead of over the top and believes that took a few miles per hour off his fastball.
Working with pitching coach Ron Guidry, Vizcaino worked on regaining his normal delivery.
"He's been throwing great," Guidry said. "He's been doing the stuff that Tony (Pena) and I talked to him about on his mechanics. He was too low to the ground. And when things start to go good for you, it's a confidence factor, and you start to think things are going to go good for you the next time."
Vizcaino also said closer Mariano Rivera has been a huge factor in his recent success.
"The mental game, that's the most important thing," Rivera said. "I'm glad that he's doing what he's doing. I had no doubt that he was capable of doing that."
A new look, and a big call for Thigpen: Seeking a change, Curtis Thigpen cut his long hair short and died it platinum blond. The next day, the Toronto Blue Jays called up the new-look Thigpen to Majors.
"Sweet timing," Thigpen told the Toronto Star. "Some guys (in Triple-A) were saying, 'You've got to change it.' But I thought I'm gonna stay strong with it."
Thigpen is in his second stint with the Jays. He first played with the club in June but was sent back down when catcher Gregg Zaun returned from an injury. Thigpen is expected to play perhaps twice a week, but he knows he can't take it easy and think his spot on the roster is secure.
"There's never any certainty," Thigpen said. "It's an uneasy feeling, for sure."
Thigpen, who played at the University of Texas, is an athletic catcher who has drawn comparisons by general manager J.P. Ricciardi to Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros, who started his career as a catcher before becoming a second baseman.
Thigpen has played some second base at Syracuse, and that has started some to speculate that he could be moved to second base at some point, allowing Aaron Hill to move to shortstop.
"It got more publicity than it should have," Thigpen now says of those predictions, crediting injuries in the SkyChiefs' infield rather than an organizational master plan. "I (played second) a couple of times. It was either me or a pitcher."
Tyner finally finds the seats: Minnesota Twins outfielder Jason Tyner had seen and heard enough about the streak -- 1,220 career Major League at-bats without hitting even a single home run.
On Saturday against Cleveland, that ended when he smacked a home run 352 feet into the Twins bullpen.
"I'm excited," Tyner told MLB.com. "Every time I hit one really well, it was like the wind was blowing in or it was at the Metrodome, where I don't really have a chance. It did seem like I never was going to hit one."
His teammates got in on the fun and excitement, even manager Ron Gardenhire.
"There was lots of emotions in that one," said Gardenhire. "Everyone was really, really excited."
Relief pitcher Pat Neshek tracked the ball down for Tyner and placed it in his locker after the game, and Tyner said after the game that he was glad to finally hit his first round-tripper.
"If I never would have hit one, I would have been happy because 1,200 at-bats is a lot," he said. "Most of the time guys that don't hit home runs don't get 1,200 at-bats in the big leagues. But this does mean a lot."
So will the home runs come easier now?
"I doubt it," Tyner said with a laugh. "But they are definitely going to have to find a new stat to put up on the scoreboard when I come up on the road. It seemed like everywhere I went, they were trying to rub it in."
Pitcher Johan Santana thought there was a chance -- with interleague play -- that he may hit one before Tyner.
"We had a bet going earlier in the season that I was supposed to hit a homer before him with our Interleague games," Santana said with a laugh. "I was going to have the least chances to hit one, but I was going to try."
Good news at home, and on the hill, for Buehrle: Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle had a great week and weekend -- one he won't likely ever forget.
On Thursday in his home state of Missouri, Buehrle celebrated the birth of his first child and then drove back to Chicago on Saturday with little sleep to shut out the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-0 in a game that lasted just 2 hours, 8 minutes.
With his team on a bit of a roll heading into the game, some of his teammates put some pressure on him as he made his way back to the Windy City.
"I was texting some guys and they said, 'Don't screw it up. You haven't been here and we've been winning,'" Buehrle told the Chicago Tribune. "I almost didn't want to come back."
But with as well as he pitched, it turned out his team had nothing to worry about.
"I guess I have to do that every start from now on," he said.
Broussard scrambles to help Mariners: It was an eventful game for Ben Broussard and the Mariners on Sunday. It was turn-back-the-clock night and both the Mariners and A's were wearing jerseys from 1977, the first year of the Mariners.
Seattle did what it seldom accomplished that season, as it jumped out to a 6-0 lead. But the Mariners fell behind 10-7 before rallying to win, 14-10. Broussard played a big role, filling in for Richie Sexson, who got ejected in the sixth inning for arguing a call at first base. Broussard was in the training room when Sexson got booted.
I had to scamper down, find my glove and hat and run out there," Broussard told the Seattle Times. "It was great chance to make a difference."
Broussard hit a two-run homer that tied the game at 10-10. He pointed at the home dugout on his trip around the bases.
"That was aimed at my teammates," Broussard said. "The last couple of weeks have been rough. We've been battling and battling, and we're finally starting to click. When I hit it, it was like, 'OK, it's a tie game. Now let's go and win this thing.'"
Broussard later added an RBI single.
"We picked ourselves up and won a big series, and now we've got another one coming up," Broussard said. "We have to think about each game, and hopefully in mid-August and September, it will be real exciting."
-- Red Line Editorial