Zambrano dominates, but Cubs pen blows it vs. Braves

CHICAGO (AP) -- One ball got lost in the sun and cost Carlos Zambrano a chance at a no-hitter. Another high fly to right was caught but led to a ninth-inning fiasco for the Chicago Cubs and a victory for the Atlanta Braves.

"It's not every day you see somebody score from second on a sacrifice fly," Atlanta's Marcus Giles said after he raced home two bases with the go-ahead run following a pair of errors on Chicago second baseman Neifi Perez.

Perez mishandled a relay from right fielder Jacque Jones on a
sacrifice fly and then threw it away as the Braves scored three in the ninth for a 6-5 win Friday, sending the Cubs to their 19th loss in 23 games.

"If the throw is down, there is definitely a play. I was going to have to make some sort of a Willie Mays Hayes slide," Giles said. "It was a gamble, but it worked out."

Zambrano overcame early wildness and held Atlanta hitless for 6 2/3 innings before pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit lofted a fly that Jones lost in the glare. His back to the wall, Jones could only
throw up his arms as the ball hit the ivy-covered wall for a double.

Jones said the ball did not hit his glove. He just couldn't pick it up after it initially left the bat.

"I couldn't see the ball. If I see the ball, I catch it," he said. "I tried to put my glove up at the last second. It was matter of putting my glove in front of my face just in case. And it hit off the wall."

Official scorer Don Friske immediately ruled it a hit, agreeing with Jones' later assessment.
"You can't catch it if you can't see it," Friske said.

The Cubs entrusted a 5-3 lead in the ninth to closer Ryan Dempster (0-3), and Atlanta loaded the bases with no outs on singles by Pete Orr and pinch-hitter Brayan Pena and a walk to Giles.

Edgar Renteria drew a walk that pulled the Braves within a run and Dempster struck out Chipper Jones.

Andruw Jones followed with a sacrifice fly to right. Perez dropped Jones' relay throw and Giles kept going, scoring as the throw home sailed.

"I jumped for the ball, I should have made the play, I have to take the heat and I'm man enough to take the heat," Perez said. "If I make a good throw, the game is tied. I didn't make a throw and that's it."

Braves third base coach Fredi Gonzalez waved Giles home, calling it a lucky play.

"The ball just got away from Neifi. You could see how far out he was if he makes a decent throw. There are only a couple of guys you can do that with and he [Giles] is one of those guys," Gonzalez said.

Ken Ray pitched the ninth for the Braves to get his first save. Mike Remlinger (2-2) got two outs in the eighth for the win.

Dempster has now blown three saves in his last four chances and the crowd at Wrigley Field let him hear it with loud boos.

"Yeah, it's tough to hear, but I'm a realist. I deserved every last one of them," he said.

After Betemit's sun-assisted double, Giles followed with a clean double down the right-field line. That finished Zambrano, who left to a rousing ovation after throwing 124 pitches.

Zambrano gave up two hits and two runs, walked a career high-tying six and struck out eight.

"To say you are going to throw a no-hitter is tough," Zambrano said. "It was good to throw seven innings, especially after the way I started the game."

Zambrano simply couldn't find the strike zone in the top of the first, walking Giles, Andruw Jones, Adam LaRoche and finally Jeff Francoeur to force in a run as a large crowd grew uneasy. He threw 37 pitches in the opening inning, finally ending it by fanning Ryan Langerhans with the bases loaded.

That started a stretch of 14 straight batters retired by Zambrano, six by strikeouts, including the side in the fifth.

Freddie Bynum hit a two-run homer off Tim Hudson in the sixth to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead.

Cubs catcher Michael Barrett, appealing a 10-game suspension handed out Friday for punching White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski and setting off a melee last week, had two hits, including an RBI double in the seventh to make it 5-2.

Game notes
Cubs right-hander Mark Prior will throw on the side at Wrigley Field on Saturday and could be cleared to pitch a rehab assignment on Monday or Tuesday if his shoulder responds well. Kerry Wood's next
start for the Cubs has been bumped from Sunday to Monday. ... Braves right-hander Travis Smith, who was designated for assignment on Sunday, cleared waivers and chose to become a free agent rather than accept an assignment with Triple-A Richmond.