"He's a special pitcher," Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "He had everything working for him. You can see why he's got the record (14-7) he's got. He came right after us. He had control, hit his spots, changed speeds, everything you can do.
"What did we have, three hits? He's a solid pitcher. He shut us down, and there's nothing to be embarrassed about there."
For Reds starter Matt Belisle, who gave up four earned runs on nine hits with a walk and four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to take the loss, being able to dominate like Zambrano is, at least for the time being, secondary to staying in the game.
Entering Sunday, three of Belisle's past four starts had lasted less than five innings. The right-hander, who has not won a start since May 29, was on the verge of losing his spot in the starting rotation.
So even if he was unable to break his winless streak (or at least take a no-decision), Belisle still saw some positives in his performance.
"It's just a grind to get it right right now," Belisle said. "But today was, as it may not look, a step forward for me."
Part of what was good in Belisle's performance was a string of five shutout innings, from the second to the sixth frames, in which he allowed only five hits and a walk.
Unfortunately, Belisle's strong innings were bookended by a pair of two-run frames by the Cubs.
The Cubs jumped on Belisle early in the first, as Aramis Ramirez and Mark DeRosa each drove in a run to give Chicago an early 2-0 lead.
The game held that same score until the seventh inning, when with a runner on first and a 1-2 count against Derrek Lee, Belisle went for an up-and-in fastball that ended up over the middle of the plate. Lee deposited the pitch in the right-field stands to double the Cubs' lead and end the pitcher's afternoon.
"I made a bad mistake to the wrong guy late in the game," Belisle said.
The Cubs scored two more runs on reliever Jared Burton in the top of the ninth to reach the game's final score.
After the game, Mackanin said that Belisle's spot in the starting rotation was safe, at least for one more start.
"For right now, that's what we're going to do [keep Belisle in the rotation]," Mackanin said.
"Belisle pitched better than he has in the past. We're not going to jump for joy, but we're excited about the fact that he made some progress, and I expect more out of him.
"I'm not going to get extremely excited, because the name of this game is consistency. So the next start will tell us if he's on the right track. I think he's got a chance to be a pretty good starting pitcher. Time will tell."
Cincinatti completed its seven-game homestand with a 4-3 record. Despite the series loss to the Cubs, the Reds have won four of their seven series since Mackanin was hired on July 1. Before Mackanin's arrival, Cincinnati had lost six consecutive series and 16 of its previous 18.
But with the July 31 trade deadline looming, Mackanin may have a slightly different looking team with which to work when the Reds return to action on Tuesday at Washington.
But, Mackanin isn't too worried about that.
"Whatever happens, whatever kind of personnel we have when we go to Washington is fine with me. I'll worry about that when it arises," Mackanin said. "I can say this, that I'm anxious to find out myself, because I'd like to know what the complexion of the team is going to be once this is all over, said and done with.
"We'll all find out in a few days."