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One thing upon which Cubs and White Sox fans can agree is they have been in each others faces for decades.
So perhaps it was appropriate that a head-on collision at home plate between Sox catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. and Cubs outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. helped decide the first cross-town series of the year.
Alomar survived the seventh-inning crash to preserve a one-run lead, and the Sox went on to take the series with a 3-1 victory Sunday before 45,079 in Comiskey Park.
Kip Wells outdueled Jon Lieber in a sizzling matchup that had fans buzzing as they headed for the exits, knowing that every game of the three-game series easily could have gone the other way.
Alomar played in front of packed houses in Cleveland for years but came away impressed with the intensity of the Sox-Cubs rivalry.
"The difference between this and Cleveland is that every pitch here they're into the game," Alomar said. "Every pitch seems like it's the last pitch. Every pitch is very important. If you make one error, it's one too many errors. In Cleveland we'd get 45,000 people every day, but the intensity every day was not there. This was like a World Series atmosphere. It was awesome."
The Sox have won five straight series and 13 of their last 16 games, but they still are 111/2 games behind division-leading Cleveland.
"Our goal is to get back to .500," Paul Konerko said. "No one is thinking about first place, wild cards or any of that stuff yet. Get to .500 and start fresh from there."
The Cubs lost their first series since May 15-17 against Houston but remained five games ahead of second-place St. Louis. Lieber yielded three runs, one unearned, on eight hits in eight innings, but his record dropped to 6-4 because of little offensive support.
The Cubs pitched well in all three games but wound up stranding 27 runners in the series.
"We're not going to slug people to death," Cubs manager Don Baylor said. "We have to be able to execute the little things to win ballgames.
"We have to bunt, hit-and-run, because we just can't stand and go toe-to-toe with people. Jon gives up three runs, and we probably should be in a ballgame where we have a chance to win."
White Sox manager Jerry Manuel was ejected in the third inning, but the Sox kept the heat on well after he was gone. After Chris Singleton's solo homer in the fifth gave the Sox a 2-0 lead, Rondell White homered in the sixth to make it a one-run game again.
With two outs in the seventh, Matthews tried to score from first on a Sosa single. But a perfect relay throw from Royce Clayton nailed Matthews at the plate, and Alomar spiked the ball after surviving the crash.
"It was great intensity, and Sandy held onto it like an All-Star," Manuel said. "He blocked the plate, gave his body up for the run. Royce made a one-hop throw to him. It was a well-executed play."
Ron Coomer's two errors in the seventh handed the Sox an insurance run before Bob Howry pitched the ninth for his third save.
"Games like this are the best games because guys are the most unselfish because we always want to win," Singleton said.
"It's like my college days when there was nothing but winning. There were no salaries, no incentives other than if the individuals go forward the team goes forward. That was the feeling we had this weekend, and it was a great feeling."