Neutral site produces no-hit result
Miller Park the setting for Major League first with Big Z's no-no
MILWAUKEE -- This was the first neutral-site no-hitter in baseball history. But Miller Park on Sunday night did not look or sound much like a neutral site.
Carlos Zambrano threw the no-hitter for the Cubs against the Houston Astros, in a 5-0 Cubs victory. The teams are playing in Miller Park because the effects of Hurricane Ike on the Houston area forced the series to be moved. Two of the three scheduled games will be played here, with the third game to be played in Houston on Sept. 29, the day after the regular season ends, if it still has a bearing on the standings.
The Astros had voiced their displeasure with Major League Baseball's decision to hold the series in Miller Park because of the proximity to Chicago, and the knowledge that the crowd here would be a pro-Cubs fanbase for what was supposed to be a Houston home game.
"We're here and that's what we've got to deal with," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "Are we happy? No.
"It's like a Cub home game. When I see the Commissioner, [Bud Selig], I'll tell him that. I'm not happy. I understand, but I'm not happy."
It is possible that Zambrano was helped by the partisan nature of the audience, although he did not seem to require any assistance. A crowd of 23,441 showed up at Miller Park, on very short notice. It was almost unanimously a Cubs crowd and because the retractable roof was closed due to weekend-long rains, the noise that the crowd made seemed to come from a much larger gathering.
Throughout the later innings of the no-hitter, the crowd urged Zambrano on with chants of "Z! Z! Z!"
"In the ninth inning when I came out, the crowd was all crazy," Zambrano correctly noted.
Zambrano liked Miller Park, even before the no-hitter. Zambrano said that the Miller Park mound is one of his favorites. He also likes the creature comforts, the spacious clubhouse in particular, which is a far cry from the cramped quarters at Wrigley Field. The Cubs, although they were technically the visitors in this game, were housed in the home clubhouse. The Astros chose to use the visitors' clubhouse, Cooper said, because it was familiar to them and they were comfortable in it. The visitors' clubhouse is very roomy, but the home clubhouse is even larger, so claustrophobia would not be an issue for Zambrano and the Cubs.
"I wish we could have your ballpark," Zambrano said, after the game, in what seemed to be an open statement to the Milwaukee-area taxpayers who are still paying for Miller Park. "A clubhouse like that -- I'm impressed."
Zambrano will receive historical credit for baseball's first neutral-site no-hitter and he deserves it. He was truly in command, allowing only two outfield outs, walking one, hitting one batter, striking out 10 and absolutely dominating the Astros from start to finish. It was a brilliant performance, particularly by a man who had been sidelined since Sept. 2 by rotator cuff tendinitis.
This accomplishment will not require an asterisk. But it will be noted by anybody who was here, that, as neutral sites go, this one was particularly Cubs-friendly.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.