Big Z Shows No Mercy, No-Hits Ike-Weary Astros

Milwaukee’s Miller Park saw its first no-hitter on Sunday night — and the Brewers were in Philadelphia. Proving once again that Hurricane Ike was some sort of sign from God for the Cubs and Astros, Carlos Zambrano threw the first Cubs no-no in 36 years in front of more than 23,000 screaming Cub fans (and four guys rooting for the Astros) at Houston’s “home game.”

Carlos Zambrano

It was a cruel twist of fate for the surging ‘Stros, who arrived by plane just hours before the first pitch after spending the past two days dealing with chaos in their hometown. Meanwhile, the Cubs hopped a bus for a 90-minute ride up the expressway.  It was almost the perfect conditions for a no-hitter — if Zambrano hadn’t just spent nearly two weeks recovering from a sore rotator cuff.

Let’s get the obligatory stuff out of the way: It was the first Cubs no-hitter since Milt Pappas threw one against the Padres in 1972, the first no-hitter in Milwaukee since 1974, and the first no-hitter ever thrown at a “neutral” site.

About that neutral site thing, Houston is still a little miffed about the series taking place in Cheeseland. The players union joined the Astros in pushing for the games to be played in Atlanta, but Bud Selig insisted they be played somewhere with a roof to ensure there would be no weather issues. According to MLB.COM, that wasn’t welcome news:

“This is not a home game,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “This is definitely advantage Cubs. That’s the bottom line.”

“This is the next best thing to playing in Chicago for the Cubs,” [Brad] Ausmus said. “I think that should be considered when you’re talking about competitive integrity and a neutral site.”

In [Lance] Berkman’s estimation, the games “might as well be played at Wrigley Field.”

“We come all the way up here to play in their backyard,” he said. “More than anything else, I think Major League Baseball could have done a lot better job of their locale than they picked to go have us play.”

All this, it should be noted, was said prior to the game. But the clearly-rattled Astros seemed to let the whole thing get in their heads and they forgot to put up a fight. Reading further, though, it’s understandable that Houston’s players had their minds elsewhere. MLB.COM’s Alyson Footer continues:

The Astros traveling party met at Minute Maid Park early Sunday morning to head to Milwaukee, many leaving behind families and homes on flooded streets, homes with no electricity, with no clear idea when the power will be turned back on.

“I have no power at my house, no phone,” Doug Brocail said. “I can’t communicate with my wife and kids. Give credit to the guy. He threw a phenomenal game. But all I want is a bed right now.”

It’s easy to feel sorry for the Astros, but it should be noted that few teams would be able to get more than 20,000 fans to show up on a day’s notice to a game played 90 miles away on a Sunday night. In fact, there were more fans at the game than there were at games in Pittsburgh, Oakland, Miami, and Baltimore. And those games have been on the schedule all year.

Making matters worse for the weary travelers, the two teams have a short turnaround and play again this afternoon at 1:05 CT. While Houston (who, oddly, picked up half a game in the the wild card chase and now trail by two) will have to try and scratch and claw for a win, the Cubs have called up the entire roster of the class A Boise Hawks to play the game while the big-leaguers have a relaxing day at a local spa.