Sox keep heat on Cubs, fall in slugfest
South Siders belt four homers, but Buehrle digs too deep a hole
CHICAGO -- Saturday's game between the Cubs and White Sox featured a 19-mph wind blowing out at Wrigley Field, six home runs and a dramatic ninth-inning comeback produced by the South Siders.
But that scenario had little or no chance of playing out on Sunday, not with respective staff aces Carlos Zambrano and Mark Buehrle facing off on the mound. By the time Sunday's nine-run first inning was complete, the pitchers' duel theory pretty much had become an afterthought.
By the time the Cubs had hung on and survived for a 15-11 victory before 41,027, the White Sox were ready to head back to U.S. Cellular Field and back to facing American League competition with a four-game visit from the Orioles. It certainly was a successful foray into the National League Central for the White Sox (53-28), who finished 14-4 in Interleague Play and 7-2 in National League ballparks.
Buehrle brought a 3-0 Interleague record in 2006 into the series finale against the Cubs (30-51) and had a 12-4 mark lifetime when facing the National League. When Juan Pierre singled to open the bottom of the first, beginning a seven-run, seven-hit onslaught, the American League All-Star realized he was in for a troublesome afternoon.
"It was pretty much as bad as it gets," said Buehrle, who slipped to 9-5 overall and watched his ERA rise from 3.22 to 3.86. "I was throwing stuff down the middle. I was trying to hit my location a couple of times and they still got base hits.
"The 10 pitches I threw down the middle, they hit them out of the ballpark or hit the ball pretty hard. So it was just one of those days."
With Buehrle known for consistently working around the strike zone, the Cubs came out in the first inning prepared to swing the bat. Six of the seven hits allowed by the left-hander came on either his first or second pitch of the at-bat.
After the White Sox scored twice off Zambrano (7-3) in the top of the first on run-scoring singles from Jermaine Dye and A.J. Pierzynski, the Cubs answered with three quick runs on Derrek Lee's double and Aramis Ramirez's sacrifice fly. A third run scored on center fielder Rob Mackowiak's throwing error, with the rally being set up when Tadahito Iguchi didn't cover first base on Ronny Cedeno's perfect bunt attempt.
Michael Barrett's ninth home run raised the lead to 4-2, and Neifi Perez's double brought home a fifth run. Zambrano finished the big first inning with a line-drive home run to left, his third of the season, putting the White Sox in a seemingly insurmountable hole with the Cubs' best pitcher on the mound.
"I don't think he had his stuff in the first inning," said Lee of Buehrle. "You know going in that he throws strikes, so there's no reason to wait around. He's going to come right at you. You don't want to fall behind against him, so I think the best approach against him is to be aggressive."
Sunday afternoon came to a merciful close for Buehrle after only five innings, with the left-hander allowing a career-high 11 runs (10 earned) on 13 hits. The seven spot in the first inning brought about a case of déjà vu for Buehrle, who took park in an obscure bit of baseball history on May 14 of this season in Minneapolis, when he became the first starting pitcher to allow seven runs in the opening frame and win that same game since Jack Powell beat the Chicago Orphans on Sept. 29, 1900.
A sequel to that script almost was written on Sunday.
Juan Uribe brought the White Sox back into contention with his 10th home run in the fourth, a three-run blast off Zambrano, who allowed seven runs on seven hits in six innings. The White Sox actually closed to 11-7 in the seventh, courtesy of Jim Thome's 27th home run, his pinch-hit blast giving the White Sox a Major-League best five off the bench in 2006. They moved within 13-10 in the eighth on home runs from Joe Crede (No. 16) and Iguchi (No. 9).
Even in the ninth inning, trailing by five runs, the White Sox loaded the bases off Bob Howry (second save) and put the tying run on deck. It was a typical slugfest in the Wrigley Field humidity, with nine home runs (four from the White Sox) and 34 hits (20 from the Cubs) combined.
"I've seen this place play small, but that was as bad as I've ever seen it," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who picked up his 63rd RBI in the loss. "It was just one of those things where we couldn't hold them."
Cliff Politte stood as one of the reasons why the White Sox couldn't fight all the way back. The right-hander allowed four runs on six hits in two innings, raising his ERA to 8.37. Manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper both are concerned with Politte's continued 2006 struggles, but they are not about to give up on finding a version of the pitcher with a 2.00 ERA in 2005.
"We know what he can do when he's right, and we've been waiting patiently until he gets right," Cooper said of Politte. "We need him. You saw the job he did last year, but unfortunately it's not happening right now. We're trying to get him back there."
Victories from Detroit and Minnesota on Sunday leave the White Sox 2 1/2 games back in the American League Central and 7 1/2 games ahead of Minnesota, winners of 10 straight. It was a wild way to exit Interleague Play for the White Sox, an even more unexpected offensive-filled ending with the pair of All-Star starters.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.