The White Sox and Cubs showed Saturday why their seasons are heading in opposite directions.
After Carlos Zambrano shut them out on one hit over seven innings, the Sox broke through with four runs in the eighth off the Cubs' bullpen to spark a 5-3 victory before a raucous crowd of 39,461 at Wrigley Field.
Paul Konerko's two-out, two-run single off the heel of the glove of a diving Corey Patterson gave the Sox a 2-1 lead in the eighth, and Carl Everett's two-run double to right on an 0-2 pitch from Will Ohman gave them some much-needed insurance.
"When things are the way they are right now, everything gets magnified," losing pitcher Michael Wuertz said. "We're working our butts off. Things can only get better."
Jose Contreras' strong outing gave the Sox (31-12) their fourth straight victory. The Cubs dropped to 18-22 and are eight games behind Central-leading St. Louis.
For the second straight day, an umpire's warning was delivered early after Zambrano hit Aaron Rowand and nicked A.J. Pierzynski in the fourth. Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and manager Dusty Baker both said Zambrano wasn't throwing at anyone intentionally.
"If Zambrano tried, he hid it pretty well," Guillen said. "I think this kid is wild. A lot of people say that he's crazy and a headhunter. He's not. He's just wild. That's his game. I don't have a problem with it."
Baker claimed Zambrano's pitch to Pierzynski actually didn't hit his elbow, and plate umpire Marvin Hudson issued the warning because the two players were "staring" at each other.
"He said [Zambrano] was staring at Pierzynski," Baker said. "And Pierzynski was staring back. He wanted to stop it before anything got started. But there was nothing even close to being started."
Zambrano maintained Pierzynski didn't make an attempt to evade the pitch.
"He should've gotten out of the way," Zambrano said. "When you see the ball come at you, you have to be able to get out of the way. It looked like he put his shoulder in to try to get on base."
Pierzynski said he "couldn't move."
"It was 97 m.p.h. right at me," he said. "I tried to get out of the way. I didn't think he was trying to throw at me at all."
Jeromy Burnitz's run-scoring single off Contreras in the fourth gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead, and Zambrano threw 52/3 hitless innings before a single by Konerko broke the string. Zambrano was removed after 108 pitches and seven innings with a 1-0 lead, giving the Sox hope.
"No one was disappointed to see him leave the game," Konerko said. "That's for sure."
After Wuertz struck out Timo Perez to start the eighth, Scott Podsednik reached on an infield hit and stole second on a 1-0 pitch.
With two outs, Rowand found a hole between third and short, but Neifi Perez made a diving stop and nearly threw out Rowand at first from his knees. Konerko drew a full count with runners on first and third, and thousands of Sox fans chanting his name, before ripping a sinking liner to short left-center. Patterson closed his glove too quickly while trying to make a diving catch and both baserunners scored.
"I think a lot of outfielders don't get to that ball," Patterson said. "They'd let it bounce. I was busting my butt to get to it, and I got to it. I just didn't finish it off.
"There's two ways to look at it. I just took my eye off the ball at the last minute. But that's a physical mistake and that's part of the game, so in my mind, I did nothing wrong."
The Cubs scored two in the eighth off Cliff Politte, closing to 4-3 on Derrek Lee's RBI single. But reliever Damaso Marte picked Lee off first to end the inning and Jermaine Dye cranked a pinch-hit, solo homer to left onto Waveland Avenue off LaTroy Hawkins in the ninth.