Summertime means baseball in Chicago, and no matter what the status of the two professional baseball teams here, the cross-town series still carries a lot of weight in the minds of North and South Siders alike.
Enter Matt Clement, a 27-year-old with a Lincolnesque beard, a nasty slider and a need for speed.
Clement dominated Sox hitters into the ninth inning Sunday, sending the Cubs to a 9-2 victory before 45,351 stir-fried fans in steamy Comiskey.
"Every win for us right now is huge," Clement said. "I think we're going to hit a hot streak here. We have too many talented players on this team not to, and too good of a pitching staff. Hopefully this will get us on a roll before the break."
The Cubs not only ended a five-game losing streak and salvaged the final game of the series. They also wound up with a split in the six-game season series.
"After all that, you go 3-3," Cubs manager Don Baylor said. "When you see a lot of brooms around here, you don't want to be involved in that."
Clement (6-5) had Sox hitters flailing away from the outset, shutting them out for eight innings before allowing two runs in the ninth. It was his most impressive outing since his two-hit shutout May 28 at Pittsburgh. Clement tied a career high with 12 strikeouts, including three Ks apiece by Frank Thomas and Jose Valentin.
"We ran into a buzz saw," Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "He was throwing a great slider. He was unhittable, really. Story of the game."
Baylor tried to get Clement his shutout but eventually pulled him after the Sox broke the shutout in the ninth. In an inappropriate gesture, Sox fans taunted Clement with their "Na, Na, Hey, Hey ... Goodbye" song as he left the field with a 9-1 lead. Antonio Alfonseca recorded the final three outs.
Clement's steady improvement has been one of the few bright spots in this uneasy Cubs season, and the right-hander only seems to be getting stronger.
"He's getting a lot of confidence," Baylor said. "He's been told many, many times about his stuff. But now you're seeing his real good stuff."
Sox starter Mark Buehrle (11-6) found out before the game he had been chosen along with Konerko for the American League All-Star team, and then got shelled. Manager Jerry Manuel said the news didn't affect his pitcher, though Buehrle looked out of sorts early.
The Cubs loaded the bases in the third inning on a single and two walks, bringing up Sammy Sosa, who already had singled in the first. Sosa lined another single to bring home a run, and Fred McGriff followed with a two-run single to make it 3-0.
The Cubs knocked out Buehrle with a five-run fifth, scoring four runs with two outs. After Alex Gonzalez reached on an infield hit, Buehrle walked Todd Hundley on a 3-2 pitch on the outside corner, then groused at plate umpire Dan Iossagna. On his next pitch to Angel Echevarria, Buehrle served up a ground-rule double to make it 4-0.
"I let [the call] get to me a little bit, which I shouldn't have," he said. "I've done good with that all year. It was just a bad time. ... I've got to stay focused and not let this stuff get to me."
One out later, Corey Patterson doubled over the first-base bag to bring in two more runs, putting Buehrle on the ropes. Before he could catch his breath, Mark Bellhorn slammed a two-run shot to left on Buehrle's first pitch, making it 8-0. As Manuel made his way to the mound, Buehrle stood with his back to the Sox dugout, disappointed in himself.
Bellhorn homered from the left side off Rocky Biddle in the ninth, becoming the fourth player in Cubs history to homer from both sides of the plate, and the first since Ellis Burton on Sept. 7, 1964.
Now that the city series is over, the Cubs will continue to fight for respectability, while the Sox attempt to convince themselves they're realistic playoff contenders.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Manuel said. "And so do they."