New-look Big Z, Castro lead Cubs past Mets

CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano was yelling and pumping his arms, looking as if he might go into another full-fledged meltdown.

Instead, he kept his composure. He also kept a good run going.

Zambrano passed Kerry Wood on the Cubs' strikeouts list, Starlin Castro became the club's first rookie in 66 years with six straight multi-hit games and Chicago beat the New York Mets 5-3 on Saturday.

The Cubs won for the eighth time in 11 games under interim manager Mike Quade, thanks to another sharp performance from Zambrano and big day at the plate from Castro.

Zambrano (7-6) moved into third on the club's strikeout list with 1,411 -- four more than Wood -- after registering eight over seven innings. He allowed two runs and four hits while improving to 4-0 in six starts since his latest return to the rotation, another twist in a wild season that has seen the volatile ace bounce back and forth from the bullpen and get suspended for a dugout confrontation with former teammate Derrek Lee.

The recent success comes while he's dealt with a seriously ill nephew back home in Venezuela.

"He's a calmer dude," Quade said.

That theory was tested with runners on first and third in the fourth, when Luis Castillo and Carlos Beltran orchestrated a double steal as Lucas Duda struck out for the second out. Beltran eluded the tag from Castro at second as Castillo scored, cutting the Cubs' lead to 2-1, and Zambrano wasn't happy.

But instead of losing it, he regained his composure and struck out Ike Davis to end the inning.

"I'm still going to the doctor, you know," said Zambrano, who was sent to anger-management counseling after the incident with Lee. "Still have, like, six more sessions."

Zambrano said Castro apologized and that he told the shortstop not to worry.

"You realize that he's still learning," Zambrano said. "It's still his first year in the big leagues."

And the fact is, Castro is proving to be a quick study -- particularly at the plate.

He raised his average to .321 with a double and single, scored a run and stole a base. The Cubs said he is the team's first rookie with two or more hits in six straight games since Don Johnson did it from May 21-28, 1944.

Quade couldn't resist comparing him to Miguel Tejada -- someone he managed in the minors -- before the game. Castro appreciated that, saying, "he was one of my favorites."

Marlon Byrd had two hits and scored twice for the Cubs, and Aramis Ramirez hit his 21st homer.

Geovany Soto doubled in a run in the second and Xavier Nady added a sacrifice fly in the third as the Cubs grabbed a 2-0 lead. The double steal made it a one-run game, but the Cubs scored two in the fifth against Jenrry Mejia (0-3), sending New York to its fifth loss in six games.

Byrd doubled to the right-field corner, driving in Castro after he led off with a single, and came around on a wild pitch to Tyler Colvin on what would have been an inning-ending strikeout to make it 4-1.

New York's Ike Davis cut the lead to two with a solo homer to right-center in the seventh, but Ramirez answered with one of his own against Elmer Dessens leading off the bottom half. Beltran doubled in a run in the eighth against Andrew Cashner, cutting it to 5-3, but Chicago hung on.

Carlos Marmol struck out three in a scoreless ninth for his 27th save in 32 chances and third in as many games. He gave up a one-out single to Davis before getting Josh Thole and a pinch-hitting Mike Hessman to end the game.

The 20-year-old Mejia lasted five innings in his first major league start, allowing four runs and eight hits.

He spent about the first three months in the Mets' bullpen before they sent him to the minors, hoping he would work on his secondary pitches to go with his mid-90s fastball.

"His curveball he left up a couple times, and that's where he got hurt but I think he's going to be fine," said Mike Nickeas, who caught Mejia in the minors and also made his first start in the majors.

Game notes
Mets ace Johan Santana (strained left pectoral muscle) expects to know if he'll make his next start after a bullpen session Sunday. He threw in the outfield for about eight minutes before Saturday's game. His next scheduled start is Tuesday against Washington. ... Charlie Root is second on the Cubs' strikeout list with 1,432, while Fergie Jenkins leads with 2,038.