Yet Piniella decided to go to his bullpen in the seventh inning despite leaving Zambrano in to hit for himself with the bases loaded and two out the previous inning.
Did Zambrano start to cramp up in between as he has been known to do?
"No, he wasn't cramping," Piniella said during his post-game press conference with reporters. "In fact, he probably could have gone another inning."
Only he wasn't allowed to.
Piniella had said earlier in the week that he was leaning toward going with a three-man rotation in the Division Series, using Zambrano on three days' rest in Game 4 of the series, if necessary. (Apparently, the big picture in the postseason is now painted by potential playoff games on the North Side rather than guaranteed ones.)
Instead of Piniella sticking with Zambrano, right-hander Carlos Marmol, normally the most reliable arm in the Cubs' bullpen, got the call in the seventh and served up two runs on two hits, including a go-ahead home run to third baseman Mark Reynolds that broke a 1-1 tie and put Arizona in the lead at 2-1. Pinch-hitter Conor Jackson's RBI sac fly later in the inning scored another run off Marmol, making it 3-1.
After the game, Piniella was asked by one reporter if he could be accused of looking ahead to Game 4 or 5 of the series.
"I'm not accused of anything, sir," Piniella responded. "I've got a good bullpen here, OK, and I trust my bullpen. I'm bringing back a pitcher on three days' rest on Sunday, and I took a shot with my bullpen. It didn't work today. They've done it all year. I've got confidence in them, period. End of the story."
The Cubs' offense was another story.
"The reason we didn't win this game was we scored one run on four hits," said Piniella. "You're not going to win on the road, or you're not going to win anywhere scoring four hits on one run. I give (Arizona's) pitching credit, but that's probably the story of the ballgame."
Webb, the Diamondbacks ace and defending National League Cy Young winner, gave the Cubs' bats more than one chance throughout the evening.
The biggest threat came in the sixth, an inning before Zambrano parted. With the bases loaded and two away, Ryan Theriot keyed an infield single over the head of Reynolds deep into the hole at short to score Lee and tie the game at 1-1.
Piniella then elected to have Zambrano hit for himself. Odd, considering how soon the decision was made to remove the Cubs starter not one inning later.
The result was Zambrano striking out to end the Cubs' rally.
"He had a double to left-center field. He lined out to short," Piniella tried to reason when asked if he had considered lifting Zambrano for a pinch-hitter.
Piniella was also questioned about his decision to have Zambrano swing away after Theriot had reached second on a throwing error to open the fifth inning.
Zambrano proceeded to line to short. Soriano then flied to center, a scenario that would have surely scored Theriot from third had Zambrano advanced him with a bunt.
"Zambrano hit a nice line shot. What are you going to do? We hit some balls hard and they caught them," said Piniella.
Piniella said: "Listen, you guys, this is only the first game. There's a lot of baseball to be played in this series, OK? It's not gloom and doom, this thing. Let's just keep positive, keep playing and go out and win a game tomorrow."
Marmol got the loss Wednesday, his first since July 17.
Webb picked up the win, striking out nine. He got his first lead of the evening in the fourth inning when Zambrano served up a solo home run to Stephen Drew.
Game 2 Thursday features a battle of southpaws, Ted Lilly for the Cubs and Doug Davis (13-12, 4.25) for Arizona. Lilly (15-8, 3.83) had the best ERA of any Cubs starting pitcher, including Zambrano, during the regular season.
Thursday's game is scheduled for 9 p.m. CDT and can be seen on TBS.
"This is only the first game of this series, you know? Let's just see how this thing turns out. Let's not get down. Let's give them credit for playing a good ballgame. We'll come out and compete again tomorrow," Piniella said.