CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano took a few steps. Then, he pointed at his manager and finally handed the ball over on his way to the dugout.
A week that started with a no-hitter ended with an early exit and a strange exchange. So the Chicago Cubs will have to wait another day to clinch the National League Central.
Adam Kennedy capped a five-run first with a grand slam, and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cubs 12-6 on Friday, slowing their march toward a second straight division title. They were guaranteed no worse than a tie later Friday when Milwaukee lost 11-2 to Cincinnati.
It was a rough day for Zambrano. A rough couple of days, actually.
He returned Thursday night from Venezuela after his grandmother died and considered asking manager Lou Piniella to push back his start.
Even so, he said, "There's no excuse. I came in ready today."
Chicago's magic number for clinching was at two over Milwaukee when the day began, but any chance at wrapping it up quickly disappeared.
After pitching the Cubs' first no-hitter in 36 years Sunday against Houston in Milwaukee, Zambrano allowed eight runs and six hits in just 1 2/3 innings -- his shortest outing in two years.
It also was the shortest start by a pitcher coming off a no-hitter since St. Louis' Bob Forsch lasted one inning at Pittsburgh in April 1978, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Zambrano (14-6) tried to come off the mound early when Piniella went out to yank him. The manager wouldn't allow it, and Zambrano gestured toward him before handing over the ball on the way to the dugout.
"That was stupid," Zambrano said. "I have too (many) things on my mind. I apologize to Lou."
Piniella said he felt bad for Zambrano, but clearly was not happy with the way his pitcher reacted when he came out of the dugout.
"All I expect when I take a pitcher out of the ballgame is to stay on the mound and give me the baseball. No more. No less," Piniella said.
Kennedy tied a career high with four hits while driving in five runs and scoring three, after acknowledging earlier that this will probably be his last season in St. Louis because his role has dwindled. Was there a connection?
"I don't know," Kennedy said. "I don't really think that much into it. I've been working with (hitting coach Hal McRae) on my swing. It just came together today."
His second career grand slam came after a leadoff double by Skip Schumaker and run-scoring single by Albert Pujols in the first and sent the Cardinals to their second straight win after dropping a season-high seven in a row.
Adam Wainwright (10-3) allowed two runs and four hits over five innings for St. Louis, which began the day six games out of the wild card. He struck out five while walking three, and the Cardinals supported him with 18 hits.
St. Louis had two runs in and was leading 7-0 in the second when Zambrano walked Troy Glaus. Piniella popped out of the dugout and the odd exchange occurred, an ugly end to Zambrano's shortest outing since he lasted 1 1/3 innings against Pittsburgh on Sept. 4, 2006.
Sean Marshall came in and allowed an RBI single by Kennedy that made it 8-0.
The eight runs were one shy of Zambrano's season high, which he allowed in a loss to St. Louis on Aug. 9, and he got knocked around after the no-hitter seemed to erase doubts about an achy shoulder.
Zambrano insisted he was fine physically, but emotionally? He thought about asking for more time between starts.
"But it's hard to make that decision, especially in the situation we're in," said Zambrano, who flew to Venezuela on Wednesday.
Piniella never thought about pushing him back.
"Who was I going to start? Who'd you want me to start?" he asked.
Zambrano received a standing ovation as he took the mound before the game. Then, his day turned sour.
Kennedy drove the first pitch he saw over the left-field wall to make it 5-0 with his first grand slam since he hit one for the Angels at Toronto on April 18, 2000.
That was plenty for Wainwright, who was 0-3 with a 6.44 ERA in 14 previous appearances and five starts against Chicago. The Cubs simply did little against him after rallying to beat Milwaukee 7-6 in 12 innings and take two of three from the Brewers. Having Geovany Soto might have helped, but the All-Star catcher was scratched with a sore left hand after hitting the tying three-run homer in the ninth on Thursday.
"This is a little reminder why you don't count your chickens before they hatch," Piniella said.
The 18 hits allowed tied the Cubs' season high. ... Soto hurt his hand on a swing early in Thursday's win but hopes to play Saturday. ... Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he expects Joel Pineiro to rejoin the team in time to start Saturday. The right-hander was with his wife Shirley, who gave birth to twin boys on Thursday.