Mateo an unlikely hero for Cubs

CHICAGO -- After Geovany Soto’s walkoff home run, what was probably lost in the Chicago Cubs’ 5-2 victory Thursday was the 10 1/3 innings of shutout baseball by the bullpen.

On a day when Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano had to leave the game with lower-back soreness in the second inning, little-know reliever Marcos Mateo and the Cubs’ bullpen were stellar.

“Z’s back was a little cranky,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said. “He threw quite a few balls up. He just didn’t have the freedom and flexibility he normally does. [Back soreness] has been an on-going thing from time to time for him. Unfortunately, it reared its ugly head today.”

After coming out of the game, Zambrano was sent to Northwestern Memorial for tests and MRI on his back. A trip to the DL is a possible result for the Cubs’ veteran. He spent three weeks on the DL in 2009 with lower-back spasms.

The aforementioned Mateo was spectacular in relief of Zambrano. He pitched out of a first and third, nobody-out situation upon entering the game. Then went on to throw four more innings of shutout baseball, allowing two hits while striking out six.

“You had to know with all the crazy things that happened, that when Z went down and it happened we were going to play 13 or 14,” Quade said. “God bless Mateo. Are you kidding me? He was great. He was better than great. To give us that length and that quality, that was just a great job by that kid.”

Soto’s pinch-hit three-run homer was the game winner in the bottom of the 13th. It was his first career walkoff home run.

“I was just trying to get a fastball,” Soto said. “I was trying to see it, time it. At 3-2, I just tried to see the ball up. [Giants pitcher Ramon Ramirez] left it a little bit up and I put good wood on it.”

Catcher Koyie Hill caught all 13 innings, helping seven pitchers hold the Giants to just five hits.

“It was hot, but it was fun,” Hill said. “It was fun catching those guys who pitched so well, which is all of them. Z started, after he left, everyone was lights out. Mateo! That was fun catching him. Somebody asked me how many strikeouts Mateo had. I said, ‘he had as many as he needed.’”

The Cubs will take their two-game winning streak into this weekend’s series with the White Sox. Kerry Wood is expected to come off the DL on Friday, so a roster move will have to be made – unless Zambrano goes on the DL.