Bullpen, breaks go South in defeat

Bullpen, breaks go South in defeat

CHICAGO -- If Neifi Perez's throw had beaten Aaron Rowand to first base in the eighth, the inning would've been over. If Corey Patterson had caught Paul Konerko's blooper in the gap, the eighth would've been over.

Baseball is a game of inches, and the Chicago Cubs are building up frequent flyer miles.

Konerko and Carl Everett each drove in two runs in the key eighth inning Saturday to spark the Chicago White Sox to a 5-3 victory Saturday over the Cubs.

"When things are going the way they are right now, everything's that way," Cubs reliever Michael Wuertz said. "Everything gets magnified. We're working our butts off. Things can only get better."

Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano had pitched seven scoreless innings, holding the White Sox to one hit and striking out eight. He had a 1-0 lead when he exited.

Then the eighth. The White Sox had runners at the corners against Wuertz (2-2) after infield singles by Scott Podsednik and Rowand. Rowand was safe despite a terrific throw by Perez, who snared the ball and threw from his knees.

"The thing is, I didn't make many bad pitches," Wuertz said. "That's the game of baseball. I was one pitch away from getting out of it. Corey made a heck of an effort and that's all you can ask for."

Konerko followed Rowand and lofted the ball into the gap in left-center. Patterson tried to make a running catch but just missed and the ball deflected off his outstretched glove. Two runs scored.

"I make that play 10 out of 10 times," Patterson said. "Unfortunately, I didn't do that today. I came in hard and took my eye off the ball at the last minute, and it kicked away. In my mind, I should've caught it."

But Patterson knew he didn't.

"Right when the crowd started cheering, and I hit the ground, I knew I didn't have it," he said. "It was unfortunate. Normally I make those plays."

"We all thought he had it," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "I saw a lot of ball. It looked like he might have closed his glove too soon. He had a bead on it. I thought he had a chance to catch it. That's what happens when you're playing a club that's hot. We had an 0-2 pitch on Everett and they scored two more big runs. We played a good game, but they played a better game. It's very disappointing."

"It's just the way things are going," Wuertz said. "Corey made a great effort on the ball -- what more can you ask for?"

Patterson was mad at himself.

"I don't think a lot of outfielders get to that ball," he said. "I was busting my butt to get to it, I got to it, but I didn't finish it off at the last second."

Wuertz left, and A.J. Pierzynski greeted reliever Will Ohman with a single, and Pierzynski and Konerko both scored on Everett's double to make it 4-1.

The White Sox, who boast the best record in baseball at 31-12, now have a 2-0 lead in this six-game, home-and-away intracity series. The first round ends Sunday with Mark Prior starting for the Cubs.

Zambrano was being watched -- and careful to not have anyone pointing fingers at Baker, accusing him of overuse -- after leaving his last start early because of soreness in his right elbow. On Saturday, he was pulled after 108 pitches, 65 for strikes. That was enough.

"It was enough for me. We have to trust the bullpen," Zambrano said.

He had walked the first two batters he faced, then settled down until the fourth. For the second straight day in this series, there was a quick warning to both benches. With one out in the fourth, Zambrano hit Rowand with a pitch. One batter later, Zambrano hit Pierzynski on the right elbow, and home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson issued a warning to both teams.

"He should've gotten out of the way," Zambrano said of Pierzynski. "when you see the pitch coming, you have to be able to get out of the way. It looked like he put his shoulder into it. I didn't try to hit him."

"I guess that's the new baseball," Baker said of the quick warning. "I don't think he nicked him. It didn't look like it hit him. [Hudson] said 'Z' was staring at him or something, and Pierzynski was staring back, and he wanted to stop it before anything got started, but there was nothing close to getting started."

Pierzynski did say something.

"He didn't say it to my face," Zambrano said.

These two teams meet again June 24-26 at U.S. Cellular Field. Stay tuned.

The Cubs tallied in the fourth. Perez singled with one out and stole second, although it was a painful steal as his head collided with shortstop Juan Uribe's left leg. One out later, Perez scored on Jeromy Burnitz's single.

White Sox starter Jose Contreras (2-1) stymied the Cubs. Contreras gave up one run on four hits over seven innings for the win.

The Cubs made it interesting in the eighth, closing to 4-3 on back-to-back doubles by Henry Blanco and Jerry Hairston Jr., and an RBI single by Derrek Lee. Then Lee was picked off first by Damaso Marte. Jermaine Dye added a solo homer in the ninth for the White Sox.

"What I see is that we're all playing hard and we're all hustling, and that's what you want," Patterson said of the Cubs, now 18-22. "As long as we continue to do that, that's all you can ask for. Things will continue to get better as long as we have the right mindset."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.