Dempster Could Start Playoff Opener

Zambrano struggled Wednesday (STAFF/PAM DAVIS)

Right-hander Carlos Zambrano had one more chance to regain the start for Game 1 of the National League Division Series, and he may have pitched himself right out of it.

Already on the bad side of manager Lou Piniella, Zambrano lost his control and his composure once again Wednesday night during a 9-6, 10-inning victory over the Mets. He walked three batters in the third inning, setting up a grand slam by Carlos Delgado. Zambrano also looked agitated at plate umpire Jim Wolf.

After the game, manager Lou Piniella all but awarded the Game 1 start to Ryan Dempster.

In his previous start, last Friday against the Cardinals, Zambrano lasted only 1 2/3 innings and then tried to exit the field before Piniella came to remove him from the game.

Zambrano, who pitched a no-hitter Sept. 14 against Houston, has battled shoulder problems this year, and Piniella said, "He needs to pitch, obviously."

With the Cubs having already clinched a playoff spot, Piniella has the luxury of setting his rotation any way he wants.

CUBS 9, METS 6 (10 innings): 1B Derrek Lee hit an RBI double to break a 6-6 tie in the 10th, and 3B Aramis Ramirez followed with a two-run homer. Zambrano lasted 4 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and five runs, including a grand slam to Delgado in the third. RHP Bob Howry pitched out of a ninth-inning jam, escaping after a leadoff triple, and got the win. RHP Kerry Wood earned his 34th save.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Piniella said he plans on honoring the final year of his contract to manage the Cubs next year. Piniella shot down reports saying he would quit if the Cubs win the World Series this year.

"All I said, and I've said this to you all, is that I'm not a lifer," said Piniella, 65. "I still hold to that. But I wouldn't put any credence on what's been written or what's been said."

--C Geovany Soto, who has been nursing a sore left hand and wrist, got the night off Wednesday, and he might not start again until Friday in Milwaukee, Piniella said. X-rays last week revealed irritation near the top of the joint where the hand and wrist meet.

--RF Mark DeRosa left after doubling in the fifth inning because of what the Cubs termed a strained left calf. They listed him as day-to-day. He hit his 21st homer in the game to extend his career high.

--RHP Jeff Samardzija, fighting for a playoff-roster spot, suffered a blown save in the eighth inning, when he allowed the tying run. Samardzija is battling Howry, who may have helped himself by pitching out of ninth-inning trouble and earning the win.

--SS Ryan Theriot returned to the lineup after a night off and went 3-for-6 with two runs and a stolen base. His average stands at .304, and his on-base percentage is up to .385.

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