To the White Sox, it was business as usual on the field -- regardless of the opposition.
"He's a true competitor out there, and we are trying to score runs -- trying to rattle the other pitcher, no matter who he is," White Sox second baseman Chris Getz said of Zambrano. "I know that he has a lot of fire in him. It just adds to the experience."
"I don't know if we took him out of his game," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "We just played well, and we executed."
With all due respect to Pierzynski and Getz, evidence indicates the contrary, where a change in Zambrano's sixth-inning mind-set is concerned. Getz opened the inning by ripping a shot down the right-field line and took the extra base against Milton Bradley.
Getz moved to third on Gordon Beckham's sacrifice and stayed there when Dewayne Wise took the next pitch for a strike. With the White Sox leading, 3-0, at the time, manager Ozzie Guillen called for a suicide squeeze involving Getz and Wise, but Zambrano caught Getz on the break and tried to pitch out.
That delivery by Zambrano sailed past catcher Geovany Soto's glove, giving Getz his first steal of home at any level and the first by a White Sox player since Pablo Ozuna on Sept. 8, 2005, against Kansas City.
"To be honest, I was surprised to hear it was a stolen base," Getz said. "But now that I look back at it, I guess that's all you can really rule it."
"Really, I had no idea what he was trying to do right there," said Wise of Zambrano's wild pitchout. "I didn't know if the ball was going at Getz or what. I believe the ball was that far outside."
Wise did have a pretty good idea where the next pitch was going, as Zambrano hit him in the backside. The two exchanged words as Wise walked to first, but after the victory, Wise only would explain his message to Zambrano.
"I told him that wasn't right," said Wise, adding the rest was between him and Zambrano. "I kind of figured he'd probably hit me there. That's Zambrano being Zambrano. You just move on. We won the ballgame, and I'm just glad he kept the ball down and didn't throw at my head."
Zambrano explained the pitch as a cutter that "bit too much," going on to point out that he simply wanted to stay away from any more trouble in the sixth and continue working. As for his discussion with Wise?
"He was saying some kind of stuff," Zambrano said. "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 [home-plate] umpire [Brian Runge] was good, because it was starting to get a little hyper."
U.S. Cellular got a bit more hyped up after Scott Podsednik walked and Alexei Ramirez dropped a single off reliever David Patton in front of Alfonso Soriano in left to load the bases. Jermaine Dye hit a pop up just over shortstop Ryan Theriot, who said the wind played tricks with the ball before it fell to the ground.
Dye was immediately ruled out due to the infield fly rule. But with runners allowed to advance at their own risk, Wise raced home with the fifth run for the White Sox.
"[Paul] Konerko tried to explain it to me, but I didn't understand what was going on at that point," said Wise with a laugh. "I was just worried about getting to home plate, which I did. After that, I let the umpire decide what was going to happen."
To be honest, the White Sox weren't all that worried about Zambrano going into Sunday's rubber game. Sure, they knew about his immense talent and his ability to dominate when he was on his game, but they also knew that if they forced the action and played with an aggressive style as they did, there was a good chance they would win the series.
It was the sixth inning that summed up the victory. It was a telling frame started by Ramirez's diving play and ensuing force at third on Soto's hot shot in between Beckham and himself, ending the Cubs' bases-loaded threat in the top half of the inning.
"When any team executes the way we executed today, you should win," Pierzynski said.
"You're smart when the thing works out really well," Guillen said.