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Carlos Zambrano expresses undying love for Cubs, remorse for antics

Incredibly Carlos Zambrano said an interview thhe wasn’t throwing Braves third baseman Chipper Jones Friday night. | Dave Tulis~AP

Incredibly, Carlos Zambrano said in an interview that he wasn’t throwing at Braves third baseman Chipper Jones on Friday night. | Dave Tulis~AP

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM

HOUSTON — As TV talking heads discussed the subject in the background, one Cub walked through the clubhouse Sunday in Atlanta, playfully saying, ‘‘Where in the world is Carlos Zambrano?’’

On Monday, we got an answer: He’s on an image-fixing publicity tour of handpicked media outlets — by some accounts against the advice of his agent — expressing undying love for the Cubs and remorse for bailing on his team Friday night.

Whether the scheme helps ­improve his image with another club, it’s lost on this one.

Too many incidents and too many apologies that were eventually rendered empty by subsequent actions have left Zambrano without a locker in the clubhouse, despite another $18 million year left on his contract.

General manager Jim Hendry, who joined the team in Houston, wouldn’t revisit the Zambrano ­issue, even in the midst of Zambrano’s media campaign.

‘‘There’s nothing else to be said,’’ Hendry said, referring to a conference call with reporters Saturday, when Zambrano was put on the ­disqualified list for 30 days without pay for emptying his locker and leaving the stadium during the game the night before. ‘‘The process will run its course.’’

The ‘‘process’’ officially began Monday with the anticipated filing of a union grievance against the Cubs.

Assuming even half the suspension is upheld — or that the process takes that long regardless of its outcome — it becomes almost ­impossible for Zambrano to return to the team this season.

Major League Baseball still is waiting in line to impose a possible suspension for throwing at Chipper Jones, which led to the ejection that sent him into the clubhouse early. That could mean six more games.

And after missing that much total time, he wouldn’t be physically ready to start again, so that’s another period he’d need to go somewhere and get stretched out again.

Then comes the offseason and renewing efforts to trade him that have been pursued for much of the past year.

Manager Mike Quade already has moved past the Zambrano Era, at least as it pertains to the immediate future.

‘‘I’m not dealing with that today, that’s for sure,’’ he said before the game against Houston.

If anything, at least one of Zambrano’s interviews, with Comcast SportsNet, served only to suggest he’s delusional.

For one thing, he claimed he was not throwing at Jones when nearly everybody else in the park knew he was, including teammates ­Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, who both said he was wrong to do it. Soriano even told Zambrano that before the pitcher left Friday night. Hendry felt strongly enough about it to apologize to the Braves.

But to try to say his comments about wanting to retire were ­private and that the media were somehow to blame for publicizing them is even more absurd, especially after Quade mentioned it and after ­Zambrano texted messages afterward to team personnel saying similar goodbyes — not to mention the middle finger of an empty locker (sans nameplate, no less) he left for all to see when the clubhouse was opened to the media.

‘‘[Ozzie Guillen] was one of the people that was texting me that night when everybody in the news was saying that I was retiring. This is something that got me upset,’’ Zambrano said in the Comcast interview. ‘‘If I say something in the clubhouse, that has to stay there because that’s our home. . . . I didn’t say to the papers or anybody that I wanted to retire. I didn’t want to talk to the media like sometimes I do. I make one mistake — that I went to the hotel in the bottom of the ninth inning. That was a mistake.’’

The most obvious follow-up question was left hanging: How does he justify that — how does he justify cleaning out his locker, leaving during the game, quitting on his team?

His one mistake? No, but probably his last one with this team.

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