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Snuffed out at home again
Truth be told, Josh Paul might be the only player in the Cubs' or White Sox's clubhouse who could tell a North Sider how to get to Mt. Greenwood or a South Sider how to get to Rogers Park.
"This series means a little bit more to me," Paul said. "Growing up on the North Side and being a Sox fan, there were a lot of playground fights."
Perhaps it was a fitting, then, that Paul nailed Tom Goodwin at second on a ninth-inning pitchout Saturday, thwarting a stolen base and preserving the Sox's 7-6 victory over the Cubs before a raucous crowd of 39,938 at Wrigley Field.
Mark Buehrle earned his fourth win, giving the Sox an opportunity Sunday to be the first team to sweep Dusty Baker's Cubs.
"Right now we're lucky," Buehrle said. "We took the first two. We're happy right now. Even if we lose [Sunday], we still won the series. If we go the rest of the year winning series, we're going to make the playoffs. But it would be great for White Sox fans if we go out there and sweep these guys."
After Matt Clement (5-7) put his team in an early 7-0 hole, the Cubs chipped away and pulled to within a run in the ninth on Sammy Sosa's one-out RBI single off closer Billy Koch. Goodwin pinch-ran for Sosa with Moises Alou at the plate, and was given the green light to steal. He took off on a 1-1 pitch, but was gunned down by Paul after a pitchout was called.
"That's all Joe Nossek right there," Paul said, referring to the Sox's bench coach and sign-stealing legend. "He's the guru. I'm not taking credit for that one. That's all Joe."
Koch was fortunate that time was called before the pitchouthe didn't know the pitchout sign. Baker said the Sox couldn't have stolen any sign because none was given. Asked if he stole a sign, Nossek simply smiled and replied: "You never know."
Alou eventually walked, but Koch induced Eric Karros to fly to center to end the suspense.
"We're looking at four [losses] in a row if things don't go well [Sunday]," Karros said after going 4-for-5. "We've just got to get a win for our own sanity. Obviously it will be a field day [for the Sox] if we don't win."
After Shawn Estes' brutal one-inning outing on Friday, Clement put the Cubs in another huge hole. He gave up seven runs on 11 hits and three walks in only 31/3 innings, leaving with the Cubs down by seven. Asked before the game who'd be his long man, Baker replied: "I don't know. Hope I don't need one."
But Baker did need one by the third, when the Cubs trailed 6-0 for the second straight day. Baker stuck with Clement until Joe Crede's base-loaded RBI single made it 7-0 in the fourth.
The Cubs began their comeback with three runs off Buehrle in the fourth on Alou's two-run homer and an RBI double by Damian Miller. But a potentially big seventh was squelched by a poor decision by third-base coach Wendell Kim, who waved Miller home from first on Ramon Martinez's smash off the ivy in left-center. Miller was thrown out by 15 feet on Jose Valentin's relay.
"I encourage [Kim] to be aggressive," Baker said. "That's the toughest job in baseball."
Mark Grudzielanek followed with an RBI double off Tom Gordon, and Corey Patterson added an RBI single to make it 7-5. But Sosa flied out and Alou popped out to end the inning, and the Cubs stranded three runners in the eighth and ninth.
Estes' and Clement's struggles have the Cubs on the verge of being swept. Carlos Zambrano will try to prevent it in Sunday's game, and the Sox won't see Kerry Wood and Mark Prior until next weekend at U.S. Cellular Field.
"People think you can just shuffle rotations around and pitch guys when they want," Wood said. "This isn't fast-pitch softball. Guys need four days to recover. We're going to pitch against the Sox next week.
"You can't match up guys every series depending on who you want to pitch. That's why you have five starters."