NEW YORK -- Willie Randolph doesn't normally talk to his pitchers during their games.
But he made an exception early in Sunday's game against the Cubs to tell Victor Zambrano one thing:
"Trust your stuff."
Zambrano heeded his manager's advice and turned in a masterful performance, as the Mets beat the Cubs at Shea Stadium, 6-1, completing a three-game sweep. Zambrano struck out only one batter in eight innings, but induced 16 ground-ball outs, two of them rally-killing double plays.
The sterling start earned Zambrano a bold comparison from Randolph.
"I think he's like [Greg] Maddux in a way -- different stuff, but his sinker can be devastating," Randolph said. "If he would just trust that and let them hit it, every once in a while the ball's going to find a hole, but you saw a perfect example tonight. When he keeps them down below the knees and gets sinkers going, he's going to get balls on the ground."
Zambrano seemed stunned at the comparision, saying it was pretty exciting and felt good to hear his name mentioned alongside that of the 300-game winner. But Randolph's support of Zambrano is nothing new.
"Every single time he's right there with me," Zambrano said. "He told me to trust my stuff and that made me feel pretty good. He's got a lot of confidence in me and I know that, and I know I can pitch some really good games."
Randolph and catcher Mike Piazza both praised Zambrano's focus. Piazza ran through a laundry list of things Zambrano did well -- throwing strikes, keeping the ball down, moving it around, getting ahead in the count, working quickly, sticking to his play -- before summing it up in two words: "just effective."
Zambrano struggled a bit with his control early, not throwing a first-pitch strike until facing his ninth batter of the game, but refused to falter. Piazza commended Zambrano for throwing his fastball for strikes even when behind in the count. Piazza said the movement on the pitch forced several Cubs hitters into bad swings.
"When he's able to ease back off the throttle a little bit and throw the ball, it still moves," Piazza said. "He's going to get some ground balls, some outs, even when he's ahead. If he could do that more often, he could be definitely a force."
Victor Zambrano was certainly that on a night the Mets pummeled Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano early, scoring four runs off the Cubs sinkerballer in three innings, and short-circuiting the duel between the like-named pitchers.
The Mets scored two unearned runs in the first inning, marking the third straight game they produced a run in the game's first frame.
Carlos Beltran reached first on a two-out throwing error by Aramis Ramirez, and then scored on Cliff Floyd's deep single to right-center. Beltran saw Derrek Lee playing deep against Floyd, and took as big a secondary lead off first as he could. He took off on contact, and once he realized the ball would be in the gap, decided to run until the coaches told him to stop.
He flew around the bases and scored standing up, the first of three times he would cross the plate. Floyd moved to second on the throw to the plate.
That play reaffirmed Randolph's belief that Beltran is one of his best baserunners. Something he spoke with Beltran about earlier in the homestand, when he told the speedy center fielder to relax and make things happen on the basepaths instead of worrying about home runs or RBIs.
"That's part of being a five-tool guy, really," Randolph said. "He needs to understand that he can be an impact player by just getting on base and setting the tone for us."
David Wright drove home Floyd with a single to left, and the Mets had all the runs they would need.
The Mets added two more in the third, sending seven batters to the plate and pushing Carlos Zambrano's pitch count to 80 by the end of the inning. Zambrano exited between frames with tightness in his lower back, giving way to the first of three relievers.
Victor Zambrano deferred any claim to the title of "Top Zambrano" after outpitching Carlos, calling the Cub a great pitcher and one of the best ever from Venezuela.
The Cubs scored their only run when Michael Barrett and Jose Macias hit back-to-back doubles off Victor Zambrano in the eighth.
The Mets added an insurance run in the fifth and another on Floyd's home run in the seventh.
Wright led the Mets with three RBIs, two of them coming on outs -- one a sacrifice fly, the other a grounder to third.
"I'd gladly trade an out for a run any day," Wright said. "If we can get some cheap runs on sacrifice flies and hitting some balls on the ground in the infield, I'll take that any day of the week. It's about production, it's not about the numbers or anything like that. It's about getting those runs across the plate."
Jose Reyes extended his career-high hitting streak to 20 games with a single in the fourth, matching Floyd for the team season-high. It is the longest such current streak in the Majors.
I was impressed with the facgt that the mets lose 2 of 3 from the brewers and come right back to beat up on the cubs..the finished the homestand 4-2, jumped right in the middle of the wild card and head off to the west where they can gain some momentum..last 2 times they headed west, they crashed and burned, and if they do it again i dont expect them to get back up..they face the Padres who are in 1st place with a weak record and the dodgers who are not having a good season...hopefully they play well and come in hot to face pittsburgh..
Team W L PCT. GB
Braves 64 48 .571 -
Marlins 57 52 .523 5.5
Nationals 58 53 .523 5.5
Phillies 58 54 .518 6.0
Mets 57 54 .514 6.5
Team W L PCT. GB
Astros 60 51 .541 -
Marlins 57 52 .523 2.0
Nationals 58 53 .523 2.0
Phillies 58 54 .518 2.5
Mets 57 54 .514 3.0
Brewers 56 56 .500 4.5