Williams made eye contact with a few of the scribes and radio reporters, put forth an exhausted smile and shook his head. Even without saying a word, the White Sox general manager summed up his team's second straight victory over its North Side rivals.
It was a smile of satisfaction, but also a nervous smile after surviving the Cubs' ninth inning following a leadoff double from Derrek Lee off of closer Bobby Jenks. It was a smile expressing pride after the bullpen Williams rebuilt shut down the Cubs (49-32) for 4 2/3 innings on three hits, while striking out seven. It also was a smile with a little concern behind it, as Javier Vazquez completed a month of June during which he basically struggled in all five of his starts.
Most of all, it was a first-place smile, with the White Sox (45-35) guaranteed to stay atop the American League Central, regardless of Minnesota's results, after their fourth win in five games since getting swept at Wrigley Field last weekend. Suddenly, it's the battered and bruised Cubs with a few warts showing, while the White Sox are looking more like the team on the rise.
Saturday's game didn't really have as much to do with the two teams' respective records as it did with the intense rivalry that this matchup has produced.
"That was an exciting game, a lot of fun, and really what this series is all about," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who had one hit and scored the team's first run in front of Jermaine Dye's 18th home run, which came in the first.
"There was some bad pitching and some good pitching," Pierzynski added. "There was some bad hitting and some good hitting. Both teams played hard, and nobody wanted to give an inch."
Eventually, it was the Cubs who gave -- specifically, struggling setup man Carlos Marmol (1-3). Considered earlier this year as possibly the toughest reliever in the game to hit, Marmol watched his ERA soar to 13.50 over his last five outings when Carlos Quentin connected for a go-ahead home run leading off the seventh.
Marmol jumped ahead in the count with two quick strikes before Quentin lofted his long ball out to right. Quentin wasn't sure if he made enough of a connection to clear the fence, aside from watching Kosuke Fukudome race back on his drive.
"For a while during the game, the shadows were significant, and I'm sure you could see they affected some of the hitters," Quentin said. "I was having trouble seeing the ball, and it was just a defensive swing at a fastball that I didn't see that well and was fortunate to get the barrel on, and it carried."
As for Quentin's intense demeanor, which often makes it seem as if he's not enjoying his 60-RBI breakout season, manager Ozzie Guillen doesn't seem too worried about his left fielder being all smiles.
"I don't want to see him smile," said Guillen of Quentin. "I want him to be grumpy with a lot of RBIs."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella said after Saturday's loss that there was nothing wrong with Marmol, other than his reliever going through a slump. The same could be said for Vazquez, who watched his ERA rise to 7.48 over his past five starts.
Vazquez spotted the Cubs a two-run lead in the first, which could have been worse after the first four hitters reached base safely. He also couldn't hold a 4-2 lead when his team rallied off of Cubs rookie Sean Gallagher, and exited after giving up five runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.
"The last four or five starts for me haven't been the best," said Vazquez, who struck out seven but walked three, and was aided by Joe Crede's lunging catch on Geovanny Soto's line dive with the bases loaded to end the third. "I've won two, but I haven't thrown my best. I think I've gone through rough patches like the one I'm going through right now. But the bottom line is we won't win games with me pitching like that. I've got to get better."
Bullpen support from Boone Logan, Nick Masset, Matt Thornton (4-1), Scott Linebrink (18th hold) and Jenks (18th save) couldn't have been much stronger, aside from Lee's fifth hit to right-center in the ninth. Daryle Ward moved Lee to third with one out on a ground ball to first, leaving Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs' top run-producer, with a chance to tie the game.
Guillen could have elected to walk Ramirez and face Jim Edmonds, who Guillen basically said didn't him worry as much as others in the middle of the Cubs' order after a two-homer game last weekend. But Guillen didn't want to put the go-ahead run on first.
Instead, Jenks retired Ramirez on a grounder to shortstop Orlando Cabrera, leaving Ramirez at 0-for-9 in this series after hitting four home runs last weekend. Jenks finished off the victory with Edmonds' grounder to second baseman Alexei Ramirez.
Ramirez's toss to first baseman Nick Swisher was followed by a pronounced fist pump from Jenks on the mound. It also gave Williams pause to smile -- or at least gave him a chance to exhale -- after another hard-fought win over the Cubs.
"Any time it's the ninth inning and you have the [No.] 3,4 and 5 guys up for anybody, my heart is always pounding a million miles an hour," Pierzynski said. "I know Jenks has been great the last three or four years, but you still get excited and nervous. It's part of it. It's what you play for. It's great."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less