CHICAGO -- This time, there were high-fives and smiles in the Cubs dugout as Carlos Zambrano survived another first inning at U.S. Cellular Field.
Nearly one year to the day after his tantrum on the South Side, Zambrano survived a shaky first and got three RBIs each from Carlos Pena and Starlin Castro as the Cubs beat the White Sox, 6-3, on Monday night.
"So much has been made about his emotional stuff, and he was relaxed, he felt good and he handled himself great and then really went to work," Cubs manager Mike Quade said of Zambrano. "That's what you need, and good for him."
Castro hit a two-run single and solo homer and Pena belted a three-run shot, his 12th, to give Zambrano (6-4) his first win since May 26. This was an important start for the right-hander, both physically and emotionally.
"The most important thing is to realize you made a mistake and apologize and be a better person and be a better teammate and be a better player with what you do on the field," he said. "That's what I want to do this year -- focus on baseball and let everything else go away."
But for the second straight year, it looked as if it was deja vu all over again as Zambrano got off to another bad start. On June 25, 2010, against the White Sox, he gave up four runs in the first, including a home run by Carlos Quentin, then erupted in the dugout, resulting in a three-game suspension and anger management classes.
"He's done a great job since coming back last year," Quade said before the game. "He'll be excited, he'll be passionate, and he needs to be. The rest of it he controls if he pitches well. He understands that and it's up to him to make it happen."
On Monday, Juan Pierre singled to lead off for the White Sox, moved up on a groundout, and scored on Quentin's single. Paul Konerko followed with his 20th homer, a two-run, tip-your-cap shot, Zambrano said, to make it 3-0. There were no histrionics after the inning ended, at least none captured on camera.
"I told him early in the game, 'Just hang on, we'll get you some runs,'" Pena said. "What a performance by Z."
He settled down and finished with five strikeouts over eight innings, limiting the White Sox to four hits after the first.
"He's been growing up as a person and you can really see the difference," catcher Geovany Soto said. "The old Zambrano might have given up [after the first]. With him right now, he's concentrating on his work and working hard between starts and he's really motivated."
At some point, Zambrano saw on the scoreboard that he's now reached 100 innings -- 104 actually -- and recalled a conversation with Greg Maddux on how 200 innings in a season should translate into at least 15 wins. Maddux, though, probably never raised his voice in a dugout in his life.
"Thank God, I made it through the first day at U.S. Cellular Field," Zambrano said.
Give Zambrano credit.
"People change," the pitcher said. "Did you ever see the movie 'Rocky [IV]' after he fights in Russia? He said it good -- it's not too late for people to change. Over the years you make a mistake because you're human. I'm human. Everybody makes a mistake. Some make big mistakes, some make insignificant mistakes. We are all humans and some of you write sometimes and make a mistake."
Of course, no reporter would confess to that.
Back to the game. The Cubs had two on and two outs in the third when Castro hit a two-run single to close to 3-2. Castro then tied the game leading off the sixth with his second homer of the season on a 1-2 pitch from Gavin Floyd (6-7). Blake DeWitt singled, Aramis Ramirez walked, and Pena drove both in with his home run, chasing Floyd.
"[Castro] had a great game and swung the bat," Quade said. "I was way more impressed with his play at short than anything else he did. I mean that. That's what we need, is for him to play shortstop like that day in and day out and if he does, we'll have a lot of fun watching him over the years."
Even White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was impressed.
"I was worried when we were up by three runs and had Castro come to the plate," Guillen said. "Castro's been swinging the bat very well, and he showed today how good he can be. This kid has a chance to be an outstanding player. When you're that young, you chase a lot of bad pitches, but this kid has a chance to be a very good one."
If anyone needed a little anger management, it was Guillen, ejected after punting Soto's mask when he argued a call in the sixth. Soto couldn't help but smile.
"I just thought it was funny," Soto said. "You have to understand, there's a lot of emotions. He's pulling for his team. Stuff happens. I think he thought it was the umpire's mask."
This was the first of six meetings in the intracity Interleague series, and was played in front of 36,005, the smallest crowd to attend a game between the two. The White Sox lead the series overall, 41-38. The Cubs won for the fifth time in their last eight games.
"We're on a mission to play good baseball and to win baseball games," Quade said. "Whether we're doing it here in Chicago or San Diego or Houston, every game is important."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.