Zambrano the Victor

NEW YORK – After most of his starts, Victor Zambrano seems to take on the same mournful demeanor: his shoulders slumped at his locker, Zambrano speaks in a soft, almost disinterested monotone, a perfect cast for the role of a strong, silent type.

That same muted speaking pattern was on display late Wednesday night at Shea Stadium, although the results just moments prior gave it away – the righthander was just as likely doing cartwheels inside.

Zambrano turned in his longest – and perhaps his best - performance as a Met, firing eight innings and limiting the Arizona Diamondbacks to a run and five hits in a 2-1 New York victory.

The performance snapped a personal string of three starts in which Zambrano had gone winless, including losses in his last two efforts.

It also seemed to spark hope that the on-again, off-again talent Zambrano's right arm intermittently yields might just hang around for a while. To hear the Mets say it, Zambrano could just have the most blessed 4.24 ERA in the National League.

"Every time I pitch out there on the mound, I believe in myself and what I can do," Zambrano said. "[My teammates] have a lot of confidence in me and my past, my future and what I can do right now."

That confident charge is led by manager Willie Randolph, who has repeatedly expressed the admiration he had for Zambrano in recent years when Randolph's Yankees faced off against Zambrano's Devil Rays.

Zambrano always seemed to pitch well against the interlocking 'NY', but now that he wears one of his own (albeit in different colors), Randolph continues to show faith that those top-notch performances will come closer and closer together.

"It comes from the experience of watching him pitch and seeing what he can do first-hand," Randolph said. "You trust that when he feels well on all cylinders, he can pitch like that. From Day 1, I wasn't concerned about him."

Perhaps that's because Zambrano has continued his ongoing workout efforts, quietly and in the backdrop of gym-happy stars like Carlos Beltran.

Much has been made of last July's trade that sent top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays for Zambrano and reliever Bartolome Fortunato; while Kazmir struggles to prove he is ready for the major leagues, the already-established Zambrano is focused upon developing into an even better big league hurler.

"I'm working every day to get stronger," Zambrano said. "I feel good about it. It's a long season, and that's the reason we come into spring training so early: to work every day and get better."

As those sweaty mornings and afternoons continue, the Mets hope they continues to pay rich dividends in the evenings, just like they did Wednesday.

"He's an important part of our team, of course," Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd said. "If we're going to win anything or do anything, he's going to be right in the mix."


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