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Cubs' bullpen baffles Pirates

Alfonso Soriano’s game-tying hit and Blake DeWitt’s go-ahead double were the keys to the Cubs’ win over the Pirates on Saturday. But it was the team’s bullpen that paved the way for a victory after starter Carlos Zambrano left the game due to leg and hand cramps in the 7th inning.

For the second straight game, the Cubs’ bullpen shutdown the Pirates in the late innings.

Here’s Saturday’s bullpen log that helped hold the Pirates in check before the Cubs’ 8th-inning rally: Kerry Wood: one inning with one walk and two strikeouts; Sean Marshall: one inning and one strikeout; Carlos Marmol: one inning and three strikeouts.

Cubs’ first baseman Carlos Pena was shocked watching Marmol end the game with his first save of the season.

“What I saw today, I’ve heard it all about his stuff,” Pena said. “You hear the rumors. But actually when you see it and the kind of swings that he gets from his pitches, it shocks you. It shows you how dominating that slider is. It looked like they were missing it by three feet. That’s how violent the break is on his slider.”

How good is Marmol’s breaking pitch? Pena wasn’t afraid to expound on it.

“It’s probably the best slider in the game,” Pena said. “Not just this season or last season. The best slider period.”

The Cubs’ bullpen has allowed one hit and no runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Pirates in the season’s first two games.

In 2010, the San Diego Padres had the most productive and dominant bullpen in the National League. Many baseball people feel the Cubs have the talent to produce those kinds of bullpen results in 2011.

“I think our bullpen on paper is pretty good,” Marshall said. “Marmol has been lights out for a couple of years. [John] Grabow is healthy and [Kerry Wood] is back and that’s awesome.”

Wood, who pitched in the Yankees’ outstanding bullpen during the final two months of 2010, was cautious when asked to compare this group to the one he pitched with in New York.

“We know what we have,” Wood said. “We know what our roles our, which is always good. But it’s way too early to say we’ll be good or bad. We have a good group of guys don’t there. Solid arms, and if we stay healthy, that will be the key for us.”

General managers look for power arms in the offseason. But power arms that throw strikes like San Diego’s bullpen did in 2010 seem to be the exception.

“The Padres put together a great year last year,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said. “Obviously, their bullpen was huge, but they did it for a full year. So I’m not ready to make comparisons yet. I know like [Padres manager] Bud Black did last year, that I feel real good getting through six innings with a lead.”