Five swift strikes from Jerome Taylor restricted Zimbabwe to 232-9 to give the injury-depleted West Indies a fair shot at wrapping up the series at the Queen's Sports Club on Friday.
Stand-in West Indies captain Dwayne Bravo won the toss and opted to field with opening batsmen Vusimusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza setting a new first wicket partnership record for Zimbabwe in one-day internationals of 167 runs.
Sibanda went on to score 96 before being run out and Masakaza made 80.
But when they were parted Taylor ripped through the rest of the home side, taking 5-48.
He engineered a collapse as nine wickets were lost in the last 14 overs.
Even though they are without key batsmen Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul through injuries, West Indies will expect to reach the winning target on a good batting wicket and take the five-match series with an unassailable 3-1 lead.