You have to go back to 1995 to find a Cubs manager who debuted, as Mike Quade has done, with two consecutive wins.
That man was located in the home dugout at Nationals Park last night. Jim Riggleman's 1995 Cubs went 4-0 before Riggs' first loss.
The only other Cubs managers to do that well in their first few games after taking over the club are Frank Chance, whose 1905 Cubs went 5-0 when he took over at midseason from an ailing Frank Selee; Rogers Hornsby, who managed the 1930 Cubs to a 4-0 record in the final four games of that season, and Jim Essian, who went 5-0 after taking over from the fired Don Zimmer in 1991.
So Quade has a chance to get into rare territory, and as noted yesterday, the team has a different feel about it. Television cameras found Quade at the top step of the dugout, engaged in conversation with Alan Trammell, and when he came out to take Carlos Zambrano out of the game in the eighth inning, he did it with a smile on his face and Big Z knew it was time, too.
Zambrano had his best start in nearly a year last night in Washington. He threw 68 strikes in 108 pitches, allowed just five singles and a walk and struck out eight. If nothing else, he increased his trade value considerably; if he keeps up this kind of work, maybe the Cubs can consider him as a valuable part of the 2011 rotation. His numbers as a starter this year are still a bit unsightly, but better after last night: 68.2 IP, 73 H, 38 BB, 58 K, 4.59 ERA, 1.63 WHIP. In the four starts since returning from the restricted list: 24 IP, 20 H, 6 ER, 16 BB, 15 K (2.25 ERA, 1.29 WHIP).
I still think Z may have burned too many bridges to stay. But with a new manager now, and perhaps another one in 2011, maybe this is a new Z; maybe he can stay; maybe he will at last be worth the money he's being paid. He sure looked like it last night.
And Z did all this knowing his 11-year-old nephew is fighting for his life in Venezuela. Zambrano will spend the next three days in his home country before returning in time for his next scheduled start.
Zambrano said he called his brother before making his fourth start since returning to the rotation.
"He told me not to worry about what's happening there, just worry about what's going on here," Zambrano said. "And he told me: 'Dedicate that game to my son.'
"Every pitch I threw in the first inning, I was saying: 'This is for you. Don't give up, don't give up. Just pitch this game for him.'"
I wish for the best for Zambrano and his family.
Carlos Marmol -- now, there's another story. Marmol nearly blew the game after taking over for Sean Marshall in the eighth inning (and Marshall wasn't that great, either, walking a pair). Marmol's command was off, and he wound up loading the bases in the ninth before giving up a bases-clearing line drive down the right-field line to Adam Kennedy. Fortunately, the Cubs led 5-1 at the time; when Ryan Zimmerman yanked a fly ball to right, it at first appeared to be another "Oh, not again" moment, as I had visions of it just clearing the wall.
Fortunately, Kosuke Fukudome caught it right in front of the out-of-town scoreboard to complete the Cubs' 5-4 win over the Nationals.
All five Cubs runs came courtesy of a pair of homers; the first one, by Alfonso Soriano, gave Sori his ninth straight year with 20 or more HR. There are only four other active players who have accomplished that feat: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz and ... Adam Dunn. The other was hit by Tyler Colvin. Colvin's blast followed a throwing error by Nats SS Alberto Gonzalez; that turned out to be the difference in the game.
Colvin's home run was his 19th, which leads all MLB rookies this year and which is only six homers short of Billy Williams' team rookie record of 25, set in 1961; that helped Billy win the NL Rookie of the Year award. Geovany Soto came within two of that number in his ROY season in 2008. Colvin won't win the award, obviously, but the home runs ought to get some attention. They come in only 302 at-bats, implying Colvin could hit 30 or more in a full season.
Isn't it nice to talk about wins and positive things for once?