Zambrano, pitching in front of his mother for the first time in his big league career, threw seven scoreless innings to lead the Cubs to a 1-0 victory over the Padres on Monday night. Chicago now is 20-11 since Mike Quade took over Aug. 23.
Zambrano, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol combined on the four-hit shutout, the 12th blanking by the Cubs this season, their most since 14 in 2003. With the loss, the Padres dropped one game behind the idle Giants in the National League West. It was Chicago's first win over San Diego in five games this season.
"This is what you expect when you come here -- 1-0, good pitching, good defense, on the edge of your seat for nine innings," Quade said. "They live it every day and when you come in here as a visitor, it's really something. We had three guys pitch great for us and a couple big hits and there it is."
Zambrano (10-6) fanned five to raise his career strikeout total to 1,436 and now is second on the Cubs' all-time list, passing Charlie Root (1,432). Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins is first with 2,038 K's.
"One of the greatest pitchers of all time said he'd rather have a sinker and movement than velocity and that was Greg Maddux," Zambrano said of the four-time Cy Young winner and former Cubs pitcher. "It's good to pitch with velocity but for me, like Maddux says, it's good to have movement and have all your pitches look like each other. My sinker looks like my split-finger. That confuses the hitters."
He got some help from his defense. With a runner on first and none out in the Padres' second, first baseman Xavier Nady made a leaping catch to snare Chase Headley's line drive and then stepped on the bag for a double play.
His mother was finally able to see her son in person. She got a visa this month so she could leave Venezuela and come to the United States.
"I knew she was there and she inspired me," Zambrano said. "I've been pitching here for nine years without my mom and today was special. It was good to see her in the stands and good to get the win."
Did he hear her at all during the game?
"She's totally the opposite of my dad," Zambrano said. "My dad can be in the stands and you'll know it. My mom is quiet and she's more calm. If I had a son, I'd be in the stands clapping and doing all kinds of things for him."
She's expected to be there for his season finale Saturday in Houston. Zambrano has looked more like the No. 1 pitcher on the Cubs staff in the last few weeks.
"I read the other day in the paper the 'former ace' -- somebody was talking about myself as the 'former ace,'" Zambrano said. "If you can count [wins], you can see if I'm the former ace or I'm still the ace of this team.
"I always say this team has four aces or five aces and as soon as you start the season, everybody's an ace for the team," he said. "I still have confidence in myself and all my pitches are working now and thank God, I can use all my pitches in any situation, any count."
Which is what he did, keeping the Padres off balance.
"I don't want to say he's reinvented himself," Padres manager Bud Black said, "but tonight I saw a three-pitch mix with a lot of secondary pitches when he was behind in the count. It's a credit to him ... mid-stream, changing his style."
The Cubs managed five hits over seven innings against Tim Stauffer (5-5) and had a tough time getting anything past the middle-infield combo of David Eckstein and Miguel Tejada.
With one out in the Chicago seventh, Alfonso Soriano doubled to left and scored on Blake DeWitt's single. That was it.
Carlos Marmol made it interesting in the ninth, notching his 35th save in his 300th career relief appearance. He's the sixth Cubs reliever to appear in 300 games. But it wasn't easy.
The Padres loaded the bases with two outs on a single, a questionable hit batter and a walk. Tony Gwynn battled Marmol for the walk, and pinch-hitter Nick Hundley flied out to left to end the game.
"[Marmol] wasn't going to give in to Gwynn and was just going to keep pitching," Quade said. "A save's a save. Lots of guys can fold -- he does get in situations sometimes and you can fold your tent, but he rarely does."
Zambrano now is 7-0 with a 1.07 ERA (seven earned runs in 59 innings) in his last nine starts dating to Aug. 14. It's the second-best ERA in the Major Leagues, trailing Seattle's Felix Hernandez (1.06 ERA).
"He's pitching now," Tejada said. "He does not have the 98 [mph fastball] any more. He's always been a good pitcher. Now I think he's throwing the right pitch when he needs it."
Quade admitted he was a little greedy and would like to see Zambrano win a couple more. Boston's Jon Lester is the only other pitcher to win seven games since Aug. 14.
"He's attacking the zone with confidence now and he should be successful when he's doing that," Quade said. "The results speak for themselves. One more good start in Houston and that will be some kind of finish. He's been fantastic."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.