Zambrano Impressive in Season Opener

Maybe it's a new Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs were hoping that, at long last, Zambrano would not implode during an opening-day start.

In the Cubs' 4-2 victory at Houston on Monday night, Zambrano looked rushed at the beginning, as he walked Kaz Matsui on four consecutive pitches, delivered one right after the other.

But Zambrano gathered himself and put it on cruise control to pick up the first opening-day victory of his career in five starts. Entering the game, Zambrano was 0-1 with a 5.57 ERA in his previous season-opening starts. He was unable to finish a couple of previous opening-day starts, even when staked to big leads. He admitted to being too "amped" in those starts and even joked about never starting an opener again.

Zambrano was able to keep his composure against the Astros. He also was able to start throwing first-pitch strikes when Houston mounted a threat in the third. Astros batters weren't able to catch up with the heat, and Zambrano retired 10 straight from the third through the sixth to take control.

Manager Lou Piniella talked of hoping for a "calm, cool and collected" Zambrano, but even he wasn't sure. But Zambrano kept it low-key during spring training, making no preseason predictions and showing up for camp in the best shape of his career.

CUBS 4, ASTROS 2: The Cubs' pitching went exactly to script. Zambrano started and worked into the seventh inning. From there, setup men Aaron Heilman, Neal Cotts and Carlos Marmol earned holds, and newly minted closer Kevin Gregg earned his first Cubs save even though he allowed two hits and a run in the ninth. The Cubs got solo homers from LF Alfonso Soriano (leading off the game) and 3B Aramis Ramirez.

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