Big Z, Cubs enjoying renaissance
Calm, collected Zambrano wins fourth start since returning
CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano is in a very good groove.
Aramis Ramirez hit a solo homer to back Zambrano and lift the Cubs to a 5-3 victory on Saturday over the New York Mets. With the win, the Cubs improved to 8-3 since Mike Quade took over Aug. 23 for Lou Piniella. Quade is the first Cubs manager to begin 8-3 since Jim Essian did so in 1991.
"They deserve a lot of credit," Quade said of the Cubs' players. "They seem to have committed to getting after it this last month. I don't think they'll quit -- I know they won't quit. Whether it will result in a fine record, I don't know. But the kind of effort that people want to see and hopefully improvement, that I expect."
Zambrano (7-6) fanned eight to move past Kerry Wood (1,407) and into sole possession of third place on the team's all-time strikeout list with 1,411 K's. Since returning to the rotation Aug. 9, he is 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA (eight earned runs, 36 1/3 innings) in his past six starts.
"We know he's emotionally driven, but that can go too far and get him in trouble," Quade said of Big Z. "He has to pitch with passion and emotion. But in his last several starts, he's calmly gone about his business and made pitches.
"He's a calmer dude, and hopefully, that will continue and the success will continue."
Zambrano has had his share of distractions this season. He returned home to Venezuela after his Aug. 24 start to be with family as his 11-year-old nephew battled a bacterial infection. The boy is still hospitalized but no longer in a coma and doing much better, Zambrano said.
Sometimes, distractions are a good thing, Quade said.
"I know in the midst of this world that I'm involved in, in the first few days there were so many things to take care of that kind of diverted me from the actual fact that, 'Hey, pal, here's where you're sitting,'" Quade said. "You deal with all the personal stuff and then come back to work a little clearer.
"To me, he seems a little calmer. Inside, there's no calm, because it's 'Z.' If he attacks the strike zone with a good live fastball, he usually has good results."
Zambrano didn't look too calm in the Mets' fourth.
The Cubs had taken a 1-0 lead in the second on Geovany Soto's two-out RBI double. Marlon Byrd singled with one out in the third, reached third on Ramirez's double and scored on Xavier Nady's sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
In the Mets' fourth, Luis Castillo walked and reached third on Carlos Beltran's single. One out later, Zambrano struck out Lucas Duda and catcher Soto threw to second to try to get Beltran, but he was safe as shortstop Starlin Castro got caught in between and missed the tag. Castillo scampered home on the double steal.
"My first reaction was to throw home, but I was too late," Castro said.
"I talked to Castro after that play," Zambrano said, "and he apologized to me. I said, 'It's OK.' I was a little upset. He should make that play.
"As a pitcher, you get frustrated with a double play like that, an easy double play. But you realize he's still learning and it's his first year in the big leagues, and you have to do anything to teach him to handle the situation and manage the situation."
It seemed as if Zambrano was able to handle adversity better in the game. He smiled.
"Remember, I'm still going to that doctor," he said of his anger management counseling. "I still have six more sessions."
The therapy was required after Zambrano's dugout tantrum on June 25, which resulted in time on the restricted list.
Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell immediately talked to Castro after the inning ended. The rookie tried to make up for his error in the fifth when he singled, stole second and scored on Byrd's double. Two outs later, Byrd tallied on a wild pitch by Mets rookie pitcher Jenrry Mejia (0-3) on a third strike to Tyler Colvin to go ahead, 4-1. Ramirez led off the seventh with his 21st home run, a shot to straightaway center.
"I still think what we see is a young pitcher that still has the tendency to get the lefties out, but has trouble getting the righties," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said of Mejia. "And this is a veteran right-handed-hitting ballclub."
Zambrano appeared in command and said the game plan Saturday was to throw first-pitch strikes. He also dropped what looked like a curve on Duda and also David Wright. Where did that come from?
"That's a slider," Soto said. "He just does whatever he wants up there. I called for a normal slider and he threw it slowly.
"I buckled, too. I called it and I'm waiting for a normal slider, and I saw it up and I buckled."
When things are going right, that's what happens.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.