Monday, April 18, 2011Posted: 10:10 p.m. Updated: 11:23 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
The Cubs came storming out of the dugout as if they had just won a playoff game, hopping around home plate. It felt like a raw October night 34 degrees at first pitch and wind strong enough that Geovany Soto could feel his eyes watering.
Teammates mobbed Soto after he sprinted from first base on Tyler Colvins two-out, pinch-hit double into the right-field corner. Just like that, it suddenly ended in the 10th inning, a 1-0 victory over the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.
That was the best feeling in the whole world right then and there, Soto said. We wanted to get out of there so badly.
WATCH: Soto's comments on the frigid weather
Really, there was no end in sight. Colvin had been hitless in his last four games and went 3-for-24 on the just-completed road trip. He was pressing and had trouble catching up to the fastball. He lined a 92 mph sinker from Padres reliever Chad Qualls and the celebration was on.
You got to have your confidence, Colvin said. You got to go up there knowing youre going to hit. Thats the way I have to approach it.
WATCH: Colvin on his big hit
It has been that way for the 8-8 Cubs, who have hit the .500 mark eight different times already, the first time theyve opened the season like that in 81 years.
Getting traction in the standings and with fans hasnt been easy. The attendance was announced at 36,597, though there were nowhere near that many bodies in the ballpark. Even Carlos Zambrano walked into the interview room afterward and twisted his head to try to get a look at the Bulls score.
For all the talk across the years about getting rid of Zambrano, were left with this question: Where would the Cubs be without him?
On a pitching staff filled with question marks, Zambrano has been the one carrying the rotation. He gave the Cubs eight scoreless innings and snapped the teams streak of 11 consecutive games without a quality start. He did it without wearing long sleeves.
Thank God that everything is going good for me, Zambrano said. Ive been working hard. Ive been doing whatever it takes in between starts to win, to be ready for every game. We needed this one.
WATCH: Zambrano on the magnitude of this game
Zambrano has not lost a game in almost 10 months, since the Cubs told him to leave U.S. Cellular Field on June 25, 2010 and get into anger-management counseling. He seems to have come out of it in a much better place.
Even in showing up Mike Quade last week, Zambrano demonstrated another level of maturity by immediately apologizing for walking off the mound before the manager got there.
Zambrano didnt try to shift the blame elsewhere. And there was absolutely no rush to get him out of this game as he commanded his fastball and dropped breaking pitches down into the zone. He retired the final 13 Padres he faced and struck out three in a row at two different points.
He stayed calm, Soto said. He stayed within his game.
And as Zambrano neared his 10th and final strikeout, the crowd rose to its feet, getting loud even with Wrigley Field about half-empty.
I love these fans, Zambrano said. Theyve been there for me. When I do badly, theyve been there for me, too. But that gets me going, believe me.
I dont like to screw it up. I just want to go out there and win. Every time I heard something from the crowd, I felt motivated.
Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol combined to shut down the Padres (7-9) across the final two innings. These are the types of games you have to endure in Chicago in April. Maybe it can be a springboard for an inconsistent team looking to get hot.
I believe in this team, Zambrano said. I believe that we can get on a streak and win 10, 15 games in a row. We can do it. If we can keep winning series, (then) when the winning streak comes were going to be in a good position. We have a great team. Its up to us.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.