Carlos. Cool, Calm, Collected.

It had been about¬† a year prior that Zambrano displayed more rage than the machine had ever season. Like a cross between Yosemite Sam, the Tasmanian Devil and a Real Housewife from New Jersey. If there had been a dining room table next to that Gatorade water cooler, it too would have ended up in some other location than it initially started. It was a scene that put into a very loud visual, the thoughts that probably the rest of the team and fan base were feeling at the time. It didn’t turn out exactly the way Z imagined as it was a long road through anger management and bullpen sessions until he could find his way back to the starting line up.

The one-time ace found himself outside the lines of the organization after choosing to cross one. He may have spot on in his disgust and anger, however it clearly wasn’t the time, place or way to handle it.

Cut to yesterday against the crosstown rival Chicago White Sox.

Zambrano on the mound and fuming after giving up a two run bomb to make the score 3-0 in favor of the Sox. You could see it unfolding in front of your eyes. The wick was in one hand. The match was in the other. The fuse was ready to be lit and soon to follow could be another huge explosion.

Only, something different happened this time. The fuse was left untouched. The match was blown out. Zambrano kept his composure. Last year it was his teammates’ sloppy play that put him in a tough spot. This year it was his own pitching and poor location. Perhaps that was why we didn’t see Carlos explode into another lowlight for Sportscenter. Perhaps it is easier for him to forgive himself as opposed to forgiving his teammates. I mean, just recently he said in an outburst to the media that the team was playing like a AAA club and directed comments at Marmol as well. More likely? Those anger management sessions may have paid off and he is learning from his mistakes.

It was a display of Carlos slowly crawling back to the respected member of this team that he once was not too long ago. And it was good to see.

By keeping his cool, he was able to stay in the game and put forth one of his best pitching performances of the season. How many times do you recall a Cubs starting pitcher going eight innings this season? Forget Russell, Davis and Coleman. Those guys had a chance, but never really had a shot. Dempster and Garza? I can’t remember the last time I saw them end a game with a stat line that included 8IP. Zambrano could have easily put the nail in his Cubs coffin and likely the season with another meltdown like last year. We lose Zambrano and we can forget about 2011.

Yes, many of you have already started looking ahead to 2012. I don’t blame you. 9.5 games out on June 20th and still a large contingent of the team is in healing mode as opposed to reeling mode. We haven’t been able to reel off three wins in a row this year and although the rest of the Central has struggled as of late, we’ve only been able to pick up 2.5 games in the past couple weeks. Don’t be so quick to leave though. We have picked up 2.5 games in the past couple weeks.

Pujols just went down with an injury and will be out for six weeks. That should put a crimp in the Cardinals chances for sure. We lost some ground to the Pirates lately but they are coming back down to Earth. The Brewers and Reds refuse to kick it into a gear that will leave the rest of the Central in their proverbial dust. It’s still a possibility for 2011. I have no percentage regarding how likely. Just simply a fact that it’s still a possibility for 2011…only…we’ll need Zambrano to make it happen.

If the Cubs were to trade Zambrano, I would have to see it as them giving up on the season. Dempster got the starting nod for Opening Day this year thus giving him the role essentially as the team’s ace. Skill wise though, Zambrano is still the most talented guy on the squad. He hasn’t been on the DL as of yet this season, leads the team in wins and isn’t looking to ask for a trade. He has mentioned he’d waive his no-trade clause if asked, but he doesn’t want to go. Is that just political rhetoric? Is that just Z being PC? PC Z? Maybe. I believe he wants to win here. No one gets that upset about something that they don’t care about. No one gets that heated over something time and again unless it matters to them.

We’ve seen Zambrano lose it on a few occasions. He obviously cares. The good thing to take away from yesterday though, aside from the win over the Sox, is that he clearly not only cares about the Cubs winning, but he now also cares about how he directs that passion. Even if he had no one else to point a finger at, he could have easily had a mental meltdown and thrown in the towel on the day after giving up that home run early on. He could have seen the game as Apollo Creed getting the crap beat out of him by Drago…a lost cause. D.O.A after that home run.

He did not.

Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to stay in the game, keep fighting, and show people he has changed. Like Rocky said, he if they can change and he can change then the whole world can change. I would have liked to have seen Zambrano make this speech at US Cellular after the game:

That would be nice. But I’ll take us starting with Big Z first and then going from¬†there. Big Z. Cool. Calm. Collected.

Well done, Carlos. That anger management stuff appears to be working out. Keep it up. This one’s for you.

Go Cubs Go!