For those still counting and for those who believe it matters, the Cubs have won eight of their last 14 games.
What really matters is that Carlos Zambrano has four of those eight victories during a career-high seven-game winning streak. He has become as close to automatic as any pitcher in either league.
Thursday he shut down the defending National League champion Houston Astros on two hits through eight innings, with the Cubs winning 4-1 and capturing their first series at Wrigley Field since the end of May.
"Hopefully, this continues," Zambrano said.
Victories come easily when Zambrano (10-3) pitches. He has allowed two or fewer runs in 12 of his last 15 starts.
But Thursday's victory had an odd twist, or maybe not so odd, considering the Cubs are last in the National League in slugging percentage. This was the day, the 94th game of the season, they hit their first back-to-back homers.
"That's a long time coming, especially when you're used to having quite a few," said manager Dusty Baker, whose team did it six times last season.
The third-inning homers came from Michael Barrett, who is the hottest Cubs hitter, and Aramis Ramirez, whose shot barely missed hitting the center-field camera shack.
"We don't have a home-run team here," Ramirez said. "We don't have a lot of guys who can go deep."
Barrett not only hit for power, he added an RBI single and a walk. In his last 14 games, all coming after his 10-game suspension for punching White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, he is batting .449 with eight multiple-hit games.
"I had some time to rest and get everything straightened out and work on my game little bit," Barrett said. "I tried to make the best out of a bad situation."
He also had the pleasure of catching Zambrano on Thursday.
"I thought the first three innings was the best I'd seen 'Z' in quite a while," Barrett said. "He was really sharp."Zambrano was perfect through four innings, even striking out the side in the third.
That changed in the fifth, however, when he had to work to keep the Astros scoreless. He lost a perfect game when he walked leadoff man Aubrey Huff and a no-hitter when Luke Scott singled.
After throwing a wild pitch to advance the runners, Zambrano retired Brad Ausmus and Adam Everett on called third strikes and then got Willy Taveras to ground out.
The magic touch stayed with him in the seventh, when he walked the first two batters before torching the Astros again for three straight outs, including strikeouts of Ausmus and pinch-hitter Eric Munson.
By the eighth, a tiring Zambrano gave up a run on a sacrifice fly but retired Lance Berkman to end the inning with his 123rd pitch.
"He got out of two big jams with runners on third base, and I was always told a very good pitcher can get out of trouble two or three times and a so-so pitcher can get out of one, maybe two," Baker said. "He was flirting with his third time."
In the end, Ryan Dempster finished up as the Cubs head to Washington and New York feeling good about themselves.
"We've been playing pretty good baseball of late," Barrett said. "We just want to keep that going and stay focused on that more than anything."
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