ST. LOUIS — Nomar Garciaparra took two steps out of the batters’ box, then collapsed in pain.
Garciaparra was carried off the field with an injured left groin that likely will land him on the 15-day disabled list for an extended period, tempering an impressive outing by Carlos Zambrano in a 3-1 victory that ended the St. Louis Cardinals’ five-game winning streak on Wednesday night.
“I’ve strained my groin before, but I’ve never felt anything like this before,” Garciaparra said. “It’s kind of a freak thing.”
Garciaparra was to undergo an MRI exam today. The Cubs feared the worst, a torn groin, for the star shortstop they acquired at the trade deadline last July.
“It’s not good, it’s a bad groin,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Hopefully it’s not as bad as anticipated, but we know it’s not good, especially for a shortstop.”
Zambrano (2-0) came within one out of a complete game and drove in a run with his first career triple, helping the Cubs overcome Garciaparra’s injury for at least one game.
Garciaparra, who was batting .157 and got dropped from third to sixth in the batting order for the game, was injured while grounding into a double play in the third.
Garciaparra is likely to join second baseman Todd Walker, who could be out until June with an injured left knee, on the disabled list.
“We both didn’t want to limp around together, that’s for sure,” Garciaparra said.
But the Cubs weren’t wasting time feeling sorry for themselves.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve still got to find a way,” Baker said. “Like last year, nobody is going to give you any consolation for all of your guys being hurt.”
Albert Pujols hit his fourth home run for the Cardinals, who were mostly silenced by Zambrano in front of a sellout crowd of 44,855 at the start of an eight-game homestand. They had outscored the opposition 29-7 during a perfect five-game trip to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.
“He pitched good and we didn’t hit,” the Cardinals’ Larry Walker said. “So, it was a bad combination.”
St. Louis was limited to one hit in the first five innings and threatened only in the sixth with three hits, although David Eckstein was easily thrown out at second by Michael Barrett when he led off with his second hit of the game and tried to steal.
Zambrano (2-0) gave up five hits in 8 2-3 innings. He’s 1-1 in St. Louis and has allowed only two earned runs in 28 innings there.
After Scott Rolen doubled with two outs in the ninth, Zambrano left with a blister on his index finger. LaTroy Hawkins then retired John Mabry on a drive to the center-field wall, getting his third save.
“I wanted to finish but that was the right decision for the manager,” Zambrano said.
“It’s bad right now but I don’t think I’ll miss my next start.”
Zambrano is 5-for-12 at the plate this year with a double, triple and two RBIs. His triple off Jeff Suppan (1-2) in the second scooted through wet grass and past center fielder Jim Edmonds to the wall in left-center, scoring Barrett from first.
After the start of the game was delayed 1 hour, 22 minutes by rain, Chicago won for the fourth time in five games.
Derrek Lee was 3-for-4 with two doubles and scored twice after moving into Garciaparra’s usual third spot. Aramis Ramirez and Jeromy Burnitz drove in a run apiece, and Todd Hollandsworth and Barrett each had two hits.
Suppan threw 106 pitches in 6 1-3 innings and gave up three runs, two earned, and nine hits.
“It was a tough one,” Suppan said. “I think it was one of those games where he outpitched me.”