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Cubs leave Carlos Zambrano memory behind in victory over Braves

Jeff Samardzijstarted July much better foot with his seven innings against Braves. | KevC. Cox~Getty Images

Jeff Samardzija started July on a much better foot with his seven innings against the Braves. | Kevin C. Cox~Getty Images

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Updated: August 4, 2012 6:33AM

ATLANTA — Could be telling, or maybe just teasing.

But the Cubs celebrated Carlos Zambrano Memorial Retirement Night by displaying a highlight reel of some of the more significant changes they’ve made since their last infamous trip to Atlanta last August.

‘‘Yeah, I heard about it, when we were coming in,’’ first-year Cub Chris Volstad said of the night the lights went out in Georgia on Zambrano’s Cubs career. ‘‘Obviously, I wasn’t here for that, so I don’t know the specific details, but I definitely saw the highlights of it.’’

Those specific details — Zambrano getting ejected for hitting Chipper Jones, then leaving the ballpark and telling people he retired — are big parts of why Volstad is now a Cub, having been traded from the Miami Marlins for Zambrano in a January attitude dump.

Since then, a lot has changed on the North Side without any northward movement in the National League to show for it.

But on one sultry summer night in Atlanta, a place that recalled much of what went wrong in the Cubs’ recent past became a stage for what the new front office is putting forward:

† The guy they keep talking about as a future ace, Jeff Samardzija, moved past his winless June to dominate the Braves for seven innings in a 4-1 victory that included a career-high 11 strikeouts. The Braves didn’t have a base hit out of the infield until the sixth.

‘‘He got back to where all the good things happen, with the slider and the split,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘And obviously the split was there tonight. It was diving off the table.’’

† The kid slugger they keep talking about as the future, Anthony Rizzo, hit his second home run in his sixth game as a Cub, getting his fourth go-ahead RBI already in the process.

† Second baseman Darwin Barney extended his range in both directions on the first two plays of the eighth inning, getting one out by diving toward the middle and one-hopping a throw to first, and getting the second by sliding to snare a shot behind first on a quick hop.

‘‘It’s hard to think there’s anybody who’s played second base better than he has this year,’’  Sveum said.

† Final-day spring waiver claim Luis Valbuena — OK, maybe not a building block but a key fill-in for third baseman Ian Stewart — cleared the bases with a three-run double in the seventh, giving him 13 RBI in 17 games as a Cub.

‘‘You look up and think he’s hitting about .340, but he’s only hitting .250,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘But every hit is a big one.’’

As much as anything Monday night, the significance of the changes was evident in the dugout after All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro’s delayed throw to first allowed Dan Uggla to reach in the second inning.

Sveum wasted no time intercepting Castro as the foot of the stairs — and Rizzo wasted even less time intercepting Sveum.

‘‘I took full blame. It was my fault, in my opinion,’’ said Rizzo, who was playing well off the bag on a defensive shift. ‘‘I told him before that to give me a little time. That’s me just not knowing Uggla’s speed.’’

Said Sveum: ‘‘I apologized to Castro after — not that I said anything. But Rizzo came to his rescue right away and said, ‘Skip, my fault.’  ’’

Six days into their time together, two of the keys to a puzzle that could take years to assemble already have each other’s backs.

‘‘It’s nice to know you have two corner[stone] guys like that who are going to be around for a long time,’’ Sveum said.

Veteran pitcher Ryan Dempster, one of only five Cubs left from the 2008 playoffs, noted, ‘‘When you bring in any new players, good, bad or indifferent, it changes the culture. It’s been good, and everybody’s been working really hard.’’

The Cubs are still in last place in the NL Central even with five wins in their last six games. And lots of changes —including, in all likelihood, Dempster’s address — are coming in the next four weeks.

But on this trip into Atlanta, at least, nobody’s bailing. Nobody’s talking about retiring.

Nobody quit.

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