Cubs 1, Padres 0

With their playoff push down to the final week, the last thing

the offensively challenged San Diego Padres needed was to face the

reinvigorated Carlos Zambrano.

Zambrano won his seventh straight decision since rejoining

Chicago’s rotation, combining with two relievers on a four-hitter,

and the Cubs held on to beat San Diego 1-0 on Monday night to knock

the Padres out of the NL wild-card lead.

The Padres, who loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth

before pinch-hitter Nick Hundley flied out to left, dropped

one-half game behind the Atlanta Braves, who beat the Florida

Marlins 2-1 in 11 innings.

”Nobody likes to lose, whether it’s April or September,”

Padres manager Bud Black said.

The Padres fell a game behind idle San Francisco in the NL West

race. After three more games against the Cubs, the Padres end the

season with three weekend games in San Francisco.

Zambrano (10-6) outdueled Tim Stauffer, holding San Diego to

three hits over seven innings. He struck out five to pass Charlie

Root for second place in club history with 1,436. He walked

four.

Zambrano said his mother saw him pitch for the first time.

”I knew she was there,” said Zambrano, who is from Venezuela.

”She kind of inspired me. Today was a special day.”

The big right-hander is 7-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 10 starts since

returning to the rotation on Aug. 9. Following a June 25 dugout

blowup, Zambrano was banished to the restricted list. He underwent

anger management therapy, then made three relief appearances before

getting his starting job back.

”Thank God that he blessed me with this end of the season. I

read the other day in the paper, ‘the former ace.’ If you can

count, you can see if I’m the former ace or if I’m still the ace of

this team along with the other guys. I have confidence in myself,”

Zambrano said.

”This is a little bit different Carlos than we’ve seen in the

past,” San Diego’s David Eckstein said. ”The Carlos that we’ve

faced before had that hard, 95 mph sinker. Tonight it wasn’t as

hard, but he was cutting the ball and especially was elevating that

fastball just a little bit at the top of the strike zone, which was

hard to get on top of. He was mixing in his split-finger and

keeping guys off-balance. He’s doing a great job.”

Carlos Marmol pitched an eventful ninth for his 35th save in 40

chances. He struck out the first two batters before Yorvit

Torrealba reached on an infield single, sliding headfirst into the

bag. Everth Cabrera pinch-ran for Torrealba and stole second before

Marmol hit Chase Headley on the right foot. Tony Gwynn Jr. walked

to load the bases before Hundley flied out.

”This club just doesn’t give up,” Eckstein said. ”We always

try to find a way to put ourselves in a position to come up with

that hit. We’ve done it a lot. It just didn’t happen tonight.”

Stauffer (5-5) held the Cubs to three hits through six innings

before Chicago broke through. Alfonso Soriano doubled to left and

scored on Blake DeWitt’s single to center. DeWitt and Marlon Byrd

each had three hits.

The Padres threatened in the seventh, Zambrano’s final inning.

Matt Stairs drew a leadoff walk and Headley walked with one out.

But Zambrano got Gwynn to fly out to center and pinch-hitter Oscar

Salazar to foul out.

”He’s just attacking the zone with confidence,” Cubs interim

manager Mike Quade said. ”He should be successful when he does

that. One more good start in Houston and that will be some kind of

finish. He’s been fantastic.”

Stauffer tied his career-high by going seven innings, allowing

one run and five hits. He struck out five and walked two.

Padres shortstop Miguel Tejada and second baseman Eckstein made

several nice plays, as did Cubs first baseman Xavier Nady.

The Padres had runners on first and second and two outs in the

first when Nady fielded Stairs’ hard grounder and stepped on the

bag to end the threat. Nady made another big play in the second.

After Torrealba drew a leadoff walk, Nady leaped to catch Headley’s

line drive and doubled off Torrealba.

With runners on first and second in the top of the fifth,

Eckstein made a diving stop of Kosuke Fukudome’s grounder and

flipped it to Tejada to force Zambrano at second for the third

out.

In the sixth, Starlin Castro’s grounder glanced off Stauffer and

Tejada barehanded it and threw him out.

”When you come here, this is what you expect – good pitching,

good defense, on the edge of your seat for nine innings,” Quade

said. ”They live it every day. When you come in here as a visitor,

it’s really something.”

NOTES: Padres ace Mat Latos will try to bounce back from a

three-game losing streak Tuesday night when he’s scheduled to start

opposite Ryan Dempster. … Padres LF Will Venable was a late

scratch with a bad lower back, an injury that sidelined him earlier

in the season. Stairs started in his place. … Stauffer is 2-2

with a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts.