Ward's pinch-hit three-run homer off Kevin Gregg in the top of the ninth inning gave the Cubs a 6-5 comeback victory over Florida, extending their road winning streak to nine games in stunning fashion.
For Ward, who'd struggled all season coming off the bench, success was something to savor.
"There's been some battles," he said. "It's not going to be easy every year. Guys make adjustments on you. They've got scouting reports and videos.
"It takes me time to adjust sometimes when you pinch-hit and get one at-bat. I was just so excited."
So were his teammates after winning for the first time in Miami since July 10, 2005. The Cubs halted a six-game losing streak on Florida's field over the last two years.
"Just a huge at-bat," manager Lou Piniella said. "He needed it. He delivered. We're happy for him. He struggled. Hopefully, this will get him started."
The Cubs have won 15 of their last 18 games and improved to .500 on the road at 30-30.
Wood put two men on with a walk, a wild pitch and a hit batter before striking out pinch-hitter Alfredo Amezaga to end a game the Cubs seemed destined to lose.
The Cubs' poor play in Florida the last two years had Piniella so perplexed that he said last week he'd speak to the team before the series to warn them about getting proper rest.
"I talked to a couple of the players," Piniella said before the game. "They know what we have to do."
And they went out and did it. They trailed 5-3 in the ninth when Mark DeRosa led off with a walk off Gregg before third baseman Wes Helms robbed Mike Fontenot of extra bases with a diving stab of a hard liner.
But Reed Johnson followed with a single, and Ward crushed a pitch into the right-field bleachers, standing and watching it land as road-tripping Cubs fans celebrated.
"To tell you the truth, that was the last thing I was thinking of," Ward said. "I was thinking more in line with a double or something to keep the rally going. But it was even better when it got out of the ballpark. That felt great."
Zambrano allowed five runs on four hits and five walks in a six-inning stint, throwing 119 pitches and losing his composure over plate umpire Bill Miller's strike zone. Piniella said Zambrano was rushing his pitches and dropping his arm slot.
The Marlins scored four runs off Zambrano in the third on three walks, a three-run homer by Jorge Cantu and an RBI triple by Josh Willingham.
DeRosa hit a two-run homer in the fourth, his career-high 14th of the year, to pull the Cubs within 5-3 before Zambrano settled down, bringing the Cubs through the sixth.
Ward's homer bailed out Zambrano, but concerns remain about the pitcher's annual August slump.
"We need to get him going the way he can pitch," Piniella said. "You need your ace to win some baseball games."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun