"It's something that can't be tolerated," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Zambrano's fit.
The early exit came before most of the crowd of 39,364 had settled into their seats at U.S. Cellular Field for the rematch between the intracity rivals. Those who had a view of the Cubs' dugout saw quite a show.
White Sox leadoff man Juan Pierre lined a double down the line past Lee at first. One out later, Alex Rios doubled to drive in Pierre, Paul Konerko singled and Carlos Quentin homered off an 0-2 pitch from Zambrano to put the White Sox ahead, 4-0.
Zambrano struck out Mark Kotsay and got A.J. Pierzynski to ground out. But when the Cubs right-hander headed back to the dugout, he was screaming. He walked past Lee, said something, and the two started shouting at each other. Piniella and some of the coaches stepped in between the two, and catcher Geovany Soto guided Zambrano away.
Zambrano drew cheers from the fans as he threw some cups and knocked over a cooler in the dugout. He was then lifted for lefty Tom Gorzelanny. The last thing the Cubs needed was to go to the bullpen early after a 13-inning game Thursday in Seattle.
"It was surprising," Piniella said of Zambrano's tantrum. "I thought when he came in initially he was upset that he gave up a three-run homer on a two-strike pitch until he got further into his tirade. It surprised me. Basically, he's been a lot more under control."
Lee would not answer questions regarding the incident. Asked if he could have gotten Pierre's hit, he said,"No."
"I don't know, I didn't see it," Pierre said when asked if Lee could've made a play. "I was in the outfield and I know Derrek Lee is a Gold Glover, so if it went by him, that means he couldn't get to it. So that's all I know about it. I don't even know if that's the case, but I don't really want to comment on it."
Piniella said the Cubs infielders were "pinching" in their positioning for Pierre, which is why Lee was not close to the line.
"When Pierre bunts the ball, he brings the ball with him," Piniella said, explaining the defense. "The ball by [third baseman Aramis] Ramirez, that ball was hit really hard. The ball by [shortstop Mike] Fontenot was hit hard and the ball in the seats was hit hard. There's no excuse for this, none at all."
Most of the Cubs players said they didn't see what happened. Fontenot saw water spraying and heard shouting.
"It hasn't been the funnest year so far in terms of us winning ballgames," Fontenot said.
One never knows what to expect from Zambrano. In 2007, he got into a fight with catcher Michael Barrett in the Wrigley Field dugout. Maybe the problem is U.S. Cellular Field. Almost one year ago to the day, on June 26, 2009, Piniella and Milton Bradley exchanged words in the clubhouse and the Cubs manager sent the outfielder home.
This was Zambrano's shortest outing of his career, as he was pulled after throwing 21 pitches.
"It was embarrassing," Piniella said.
But the outburst was not responsible for the Cubs' inability to muster any offense against the White Sox and starter Jake Peavy.
"Peavy threw the ball well, and we haven't been pounding the ball of late," Piniella said. "That had nothing to do with the Zambrano thing. The Zambrano thing is something that doesn't work, and we're not going to tolerate it."
The Cubs managed three hits hits off Peavy (7-5), Sergio Santos and Tony Pena. Gordon Beckham added a solo homer to help the White Sox take a 3-1 lead in the season series.
"He was good today," Cubs second baseman Ryan Theriot said of Peavy. "Great breaking ball, great slider. He definitely located and was hitting that outside corner. He's another one who was intense."
It was the White Sox 10th straight win, while the Cubs now are 1-4 in their past five games. They had hoped to get a lift with the return of third baseman Aramis Ramirez, activated from the disabled list Friday, but he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. The Cubs are batting .178 in their past four games and have scored four runs.
"I'm disappointed in how we've played," Hendry said. "It's a collective effort. We have pitched well at times and not well at other times. A few guys haven't had productive offensive years, but we haven't had too many be productive with runners-on-base, close-game situations.
"It's like everything else in sports -- when it starts going south, it snowballs on you one way or another, just like the terrific job the White Sox have done," Hendry said. "They had a tough stretch, too, and righted the ship and have been playing great. Unfortunately this game is very contagious one way or the other, and we're going through the bad side of contagious now."