HOUSTON -- When you can get 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in a game when your closer has the night off, that's pretty special.The Cubs have been on a pretty special run of late, having won 12 of their last 15 games after Monday's 4-3 triumph over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
"The bullpen was unbelievable," manager Mike Quade said. "They were all good."Stand up, James Russell, who entered the game with a runner on second and one out in the sixth and struck out pinch-hitter Jason Michaels, before retiring Clint Barmes on a high fly ball. "I started Michaels out with a backdoor slider, threw him another slider he fouled over our dugout and just got him with a fastball away," Russell said. "We're a tight group out there and keep our team in the game, keep us ahead and get to our closer. We've got ourselves in a nice little groove." Take a bow, Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall, who combined to pitch the seventh and eighth innings without giving up a hit. "Samardzija and Marsh coming out for the third straight game and pitching as well as they did [was big]," Quade said. "They both can take a vacation tomorrow, that's for sure." Most of all, rejoice, Kerry Wood, who retired the Astros on 10 pitches in the ninth to collect his first save since June 29, 2010. Wood entered the game with a streak of eight strikeouts in a row. He gave up a flyout to the first batter he faced, Michaels, then finished off the Astros by striking out Jimmy Paredes and Humberto Quintero. "It's nice to get in a situation like that, give [Carlos] Marmol a day off and more importantly get us a W," Wood said. "I was calm. Just tried to make pitches. I was the freshest guy we had for late in the game." The bullpen is becoming the strength of this Cubs team. "We all feed off each other," Wood said. "These guys want to pitch every day. We've pitched a lot. These guys are young and hungry. They take pride in it. It's fun to be a part of it." The Cubs didn't even need Marmol, who has 28 saves for the season and was given a day's rest by Quade after working in back-to-back games. "He'd probably have a few more [saves] if we didn't have a guy named Marmol," Quade said of Wood. "When you do commit to giving Marmol a day off, it's nice to have him and Marshall in the back." Starter Rodrigo Lopez benefited most from the bullpen's work, pitching just well enough to win. Lopez (4-3) lasted 5 1/3 innings and gave up five hits and three runs, only two of them earned, in winning his second consecutive start. "Lopey was good," Quade said. "He's a 90-pitch kind of guy right now. He's a veteran guy who mixes and matches. Doesn't give in. Knows what he wants to do. Obviously, he's not the guy he was seven years ago." "The bullpen has been awesome," Lopez said. "They've been pretty consistent. We've got one of the best bullpens in the league." Geovany Soto led the Chicago offense by going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles. His two-run double in the sixth gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead and proved to be the biggest hit of the game. Soto struck out in the second to extend his hitting slump to 0-for-14. "That was refreshing," Soto said. "You work so hard in the cage. Just try to get wood on the ball. I had my day and I'm thankful for that. "You've got to keep working, even if you're super hot, or cold. It's tough when you're not getting hits. You have to keep your head up and keep working at it and keep positive. You hope things turn around, and they usually do." Soto doubled down the left-field line with two outs and Marlon Byrd and Reed Johnson on base. "He threw me a 3-1 slider," Soto said of Astros starter Henry Sosa, who took the loss. "I knew they were going to pitch me tough. He left it out over the plate and I managed to get a hole at third. It was a pretty good day for me." "That turned out to be a huge hit for them," said Astros manager Brad Mills. Soto appreciated the bullpen's work as much as anyone. "They've been doing a great job," Soto said. "Samardzija, Marsh, Woody. Wow. If you don't face Marmol, you face Woody. His cutter has been coming along, his offspeed pitches are doing well, his locating better, he's moving his fastball around. It's refreshing to see a power arm from the bullpen like that."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.