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Before Zambrano left, Soriano told him what he did was wrong

Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano left teammate Alfonso Soriano watch from dugout during baseball game against Cincinnati Reds Saturday Sept. 29

Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, left, and teammate Alfonso Soriano watch from the dugout during a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl)

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:28AM

ATLANTA — As baseball’s legal process takes over in the Carlos Zambrano saga Monday, the overriding question still unanswered since Friday is what the guy was thinking when he packed up and left during the game — what made him tell clubhouse personnel he was retiring?

Those closest to him among staff and teammates say he has not returned calls or texts since the incident. His agent, Barry Praver, is in full damage-control mode, handpicking media perceived as sympathetic to deliver the Zambrano camp’s spin, even changing details as new facts are discovered and reported.

Praver, who told ESPN a formal players-union grievance will be filed Monday to fight Zambrano’s 30-day suspension without pay, has not returned repeated messages left by the Sun-Times.

He told one outlet that Zambrano returned to the clubhouse within two hours after leaving to return his belongings. And after the Cubs publicly disputed that — many players scoffing as they watched that televised report in the clubhouse Sunday — Praver told another outlet Zambrano didn’t return but had someone else take his stuff back.


Zambrano is gone. The rest of the team has barely paused in going 2-for-2 since he left, including a 6-5 comeback victory Sunday over the Atlanta Braves.

And nobody seems to know what made him pull this latest stunt.

Could the extreme actions by a frustrated Zambrano have been triggered by the confrontation he had in the clubhouse with teammate Alfonso Soriano minutes after he was ejected for trying to hit Atlanta’s Chipper Jones with a pitch Friday night?

Could it be the result of something building up as the once-dominant pitcher finds it increasingly difficult to perform at a high level — the feeling of ‘‘stealing money because he’s not producing’’ that his friend Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said he shared with Guillen’s family?

One of the last conversations Zambrano had with any of his teammates before leaving Friday was a one-sided argument with Soriano.

‘‘I told him what he did was wrong,’’ Soriano told the Sun-Times on Sunday, confirming a report attributed to an unnamed source.

After Zambrano was ejected in the fifth inning, Soriano went into the clubhouse once the half-inning ended and confronted Zambrano.

‘‘We are human. We are not machines. He had a bad day, but you’re not supposed to hit some guy because they hit [home runs off] you,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘Now you put [your] hitters in a tough position because maybe sooner or later they want to hit one of us. That’s what I said to him. And I’m surprised they haven’t hit nobody yet.’’

Zambrano’s response was not a lengthy one, Soriano said.

‘‘He was angry, and at the same time I think more frustrated,’’ he said. ‘‘I just said it, and he told me one word that I don’t want to say because he’s frustrated.’’

Soriano, due up fifth that inning, returned to the dugout soon after.

‘‘Then I come up [to the clubhouse] in the seventh to see video of my at-bat, and I see him dressed up,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘I see him like ready to go, but I thought maybe he’d wait for the media, and he’d want to explain what happened. I never even thought he might leave. When the game was over, I come in the room, and he’s not here.’’

Guillen, who said he hasn’t talked to Zambrano since the incident, said Sunday, ‘‘He told my family he feels like he’s stealing money because he’s not producing. Maybe that’s why he did it. People don’t understand what he feels. He just wants to compete. The passion and love for the game come out.’’

Soriano said he hasn’t talked to Zambrano or seen him since and remains puzzled over why any 30-year-old ballplayer would pack up and say he’s retiring after one rough game.

‘‘You see all the people who want to be like we are, who want to be big-league players,’’ Soriano said, ‘‘and you [throw it away]? Come on, you got to be smarter [than that].

‘‘He’s not a bad person. I mean, the attitude that he has in the game, that makes everybody tired because it’s not one, it’s not two. At least every year, he does something that hurts the team. . . . He’s got to calm down his emotions in the game.’’

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