John Danks outdueled Zambrano to lead the White Sox to a 6-0 victory Sunday over the Cubs, and take the intracity Interleague series. The sellout crowd of 39,745 at U.S. Cellular Field got their money's worth, while the Cubs are happy to return to National League play.
For the first time this season, the Cubs are two games under .500.
"We need to get on a roll," Derrek Lee said. "It's not early any more, and we're under .500. Those teams aren't going to keep waiting around for us, so we need to play more consistent baseball."
Danks (6-6) had limited the Cubs to one run over seven innings in a game at Wrigley earlier this month. He was stingier on Sunday, throwing seven scoreless innings while holding the Cubs to four hits.
"You have to give credit to the other pitcher, Danks," Zambrano said. "Sometimes the other pitcher comes with his best stuff, and there's nothing you can do about it. He was pitching good today. He was mixing his pitches and throwing a good fastball and a great changeup -- like he always has. If you don't get a lucky hit like Danks when he's pitching good, what are you going to do?"
The Cubs' best chance against the lefty came in the sixth, when they loaded the bases with two outs after Danks walked both Lee and Jake Fox. Geovany Soto then bounced one between third and short, but Alexei Ramirez was able to get to the ball in the hole, throwing to third to barely force out Lee and end the inning.
Zambrano (4-3) gave up five runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 frames, and he has not won in his past four starts.
"He was so-so," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said, assessing his starter.
The problem inning was the sixth. The White Sox already led, 3-0, when Chris Getz doubled and moved up on a sacrifice. With Dewayne Wise at the plate, Getz broke for home. Zambrano threw wide of the plate in a seemingly impromptu pitchout, but the ball got away from Soto. Getz scored and was credited with a stolen base.
"For some reason, I knew when I saw this guy taking off -- when I was up there, I was telling Geo, 'Get out, get out,' and I threw the pitch up," Zambrano said.
The Cubs right-hander then hit Wise, and the two exchanged a few words as Wise headed to first. Home-plate umpire Paul Runge stepped between Zambrano and Wise, and guided the pitcher back to the mound.
"It was a cutter that cut too much," Zambrano said of the pitch that nicked Wise. "In that situation, I don't want to get more in trouble. I want to pitch and get out of that situation and get my six, seven innings. I wasn't even looking at him. He was saying some kind of stuff. I heard what he said, but I didn't understand what he said. I heard him talking to me. I turned around, and said, 'What?' The umpire was good, because it was starting to get a little hyper."
Scott Podsednik walked, and Zambrano exited. Ramirez greeted David Patton with a single to load the bases, and Jermaine Dye popped up toward third. Shortstop Ryan Theriot couldn't get his glove on the ball, which landed in shallow left. Theriot was charged with an error, and another run scored to make it 5-0.
"The sun wasn't a problem, it was the wind," Theriot said. "That ball was in front of third base. It was a tough one."
Piniella wasn't sure what happened.
"I don't know if he lost concentration or what," Piniella said of Zambrano. "It wasn't one of his stellar games, no. Actually, it wasn't a good game for us period, we didn't play a good game at all. You don't mind getting beat like we did Saturday, but today wasn't good baseball."
Zambrano also plunked Podsednik with a pitch leading off the third and then served up Ramirez's 10th home run on a 1-2 pitch. The White Sox made it 3-0 in the fourth on Wise's infield hit that second baseman Andres Blanco knocked down.
"I don't want to put Podsednik on base," Zambrano said. "I'm not crazy. Nobody wants to put Podsednik on base. He'll get in scoring position. It was just a cutter that cut too much."
More importantly, the Cubs have lost six of their past seven games, and 16 of their past 21 on the road.
"We're definitely better than we've been playing," Milton Bradley said. "When we get our full squad back, we'll see how things change."
Aramis Ramirez is close to returning, but not soon enough. The Cubs' longest winning streak this season is five games, as they head into a pre-All-Star stretch against National League Central teams.
"We feel like it's coming," Zambrano said of a possible hot streak. "We look forward to getting on a streak big time, eight, nine, 10 games. The good thing about this is we're still three, 4 1/2 games out. We're still there, and we have to keep competing."
They also have one more game vs. the White Sox, who now lead the intracity series, 36-35. That will likely be made up Sept. 3. They can only hope they're playing better then.
"Today wasn't a good game at all for us," Lee said. "Not only did we not swing the bats, but we didn't play good defense. There's definitely room for improvement."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.