CHICAGO — Carlos Zambrano threw another tantrum, and this time, the Chicago Cubs might be out of patience.
They suspended the volatile pitcher indefinitely for his outburst and dugout altercation with teammate Derrek Lee after the first inning of a 6-0 loss to the White Sox on Friday.
General manager Jim Hendry said Zambrano's behavior was "not acceptable."
Asked if there was any doubt in his mind that Zambrano would pitch again for the Cubs this year, Hendry said he "certainly wouldn't rule it out" and added "the rules of the game usually don't allow long, long-term suspensions."
For now, the Cubs will go with 24 players.
Manager Lou Piniella, who sent Zambrano home, called his behavior embarrassing.
Zambrano is in the middle of a $91.5 million, five-year contract extension he signed in August 2007, and Hendry said he doesn't think his behavior could nullify the deal.
"It becomes a bit of a tired act," Hendry said. "People think that he hasn't been spoken to by Lou and his staff or the general manager before. Things are sometimes construed as being let go or let slide by — that's certainly not true. You have every right to say it like that, that it's a recurring situation. And every time it recurs, it is a little bit more disappointing."
Zambrano was seen screaming as he walked down the dugout steps past Lee after allowing four runs and stormed toward the other end. Lee appeared to yell something, and as Zambrano headed back toward him, Piniella, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and bench coach Alan Trammell stepped between them.
Cubs catcher Geovany Soto then grabbed the pitcher from behind and pulled him away. Zambrano appeared to say something to Piniella on his way to the clubhouse after being lifted for Tom Gorzelanny.
"He came in after he got the third out, and he started yelling and screaming and," Piniella said, pausing. "It was embarrassing."
He said Zambrano was upset after some of his teammates didn't try to make diving stops, even though the balls were hit hard.
That includes a leadoff double by Juan Pierre down the right-field line past Lee, and another with one out by Alex Rios down the left-field line past third baseman Aramis Ramirez to drive in the first run.
After Paul Konerko singled, Carlos Quentin hit a three-run homer to left-center to extend the lead to 4-0.
Zambrano then struck out Mark Kotsay and retired A.J. Pierzynski on a grounder to first, taking the throw from Lee to end the inning.
Lee had little to say about the incident, telling reporters, "First of all, no questions about what happened. I'll talk about the game, that's it."
Asked if he could have made a diving stop on Pierre's double, Lee shook his head and muttered, "No."
Lee was in on the play, and Pierre felt he had no shot at it. The same goes for Piniella, who did not think Ramirez could have stopped Rios' double.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who did not know about the suspension, joked, "Boxing is going so bad, if Don King sees that (Zambrano and Lee) — that's two big boys."
But this was no laughing matter for the Cubs. Zambrano has faced disciplinary action for his antics before.
Last season, he was barred for six games by Major League Baseball after an outburst during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And in 2007, he got into a fight with former teammate Michael Barrett in the dugout that resumed in the clubhouse, resulting in fines for both players.
Zambrano had been on good behavior this year, though. He didn't complain when the Cubs banished him to the bullpen after he struggled in his first few starts. And although he dominated in his previous start against the Los Angeles Angels, he hasn't shown the form that led to the big contract for the past year and a half.
"He really hasn't been up to the standards that he was before for two seasons," Hendry said. "If you look at his last 50 starts, he probably ranks in the bottom third of the National League of overall performance, and I'm not saying that critically. That's not something that I'm tying in with today, but that's part of the decision that was criticized at the time, like we were taking our ace out of the rotation.
"At that time we did it," Hendry continued, "I think it was a 40-start lookback that we did, and it really didn't wind up very well. … I expect him to win more than nine wins like last year, and certainly, he deserved to be given a large contract. He was one of the best pitchers in the game for four, five years and did a tremendous job."