Heroes welcome

During the final week of the season, the value of a clutch performance is immeasurable. Several National League teams in the postseason hunt were the beneficiaries of big-time efforts Sunday.

The Mets' MVP candidate, David Wright, delivered one of the biggest hits of the team's season to give New York its third straight win over the Marlins. Wright, who struggled with two-strike counts early in the year, overcame that and added to his MVP résumé by helping extend the Mets' NL East lead.

The Cubs were in need of a good pitching performance from Carlos Zambrano against the Pirates, and they got one before he left after six innings with cramping. Zambrano has struggled at home this season, but he looked like his vintage self. Coupled with the Brewers' loss, the Cubs gained another game on Milwaukee in the NL Central race.

A couple of players whose teams are still chasing the wild card also were huge. With Matt Holliday out of the lineup, Brad Hawpe stepped up big-time for Colorado, which completed an improbable road sweep of the Padres to put itself right into the thick of the race.

Finally, the Braves, who appeared to be on the outside looking in just a few days ago, got their second straight big win over the Brewers, thanks in large part to Mark Teixeira. The former Rangers first baseman has been with the team for just the past two months, but his RBI-per-game output may earn him some MVP votes, especially if Atlanta can go to Philadelphia and pull out a couple of wins in the next few days.

David Wright Mets defeat Marlins 7-6 (11 innings) Go-ahead hit on 0-2. Has .300 BA in September with two strikes.
Brad Hawpe Rockies defeat Padres 7-3 Has .478 BA, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs in last five games (.180 BA in previous 20 games).
Carlos Zambrano Cubs defeat Pirates 8-0 Sets career high in wins (17). First victory at Wrigley Field since July 18.
Mark Teixeira Braves defeat Brewers 7-4 Two RBIs in eighth put game away. Has .500 BA with runners in scoring position for Braves.

Andy Pettitte • Blue Jays at Yankees, 1:05 p.m. ET: With a playoff berth all but clinched, the Yankees set their sights on winning the AL East. Andy Pettitte (14-8, 3.79) will start the series finale and give Roger Clemens an extra day to rest his sore left hamstring. Pettitte has been money in the second half, going 10-2 with a 3.23 ERA. A.J. Burnett (9-7, 3.40) is 2-0 with a 2.27 ERA and .182 BAA in September.

Dave Bush • Cardinals at Brewers, 8:05 p.m. ET: Milwaukee can't afford to lose any more games if it wants to keep its fading postseason hopes alive. Dave Bush (11-10, 5.20) has pitched well at Miller Park. He is 7-6 with a 4.30 ERA in 15 starts. Adam Wainwright (13-11, 3.60) tossed seven shutout innings in his only start against the Brewers this season.

Chris Young • Padres at Giants, 10:15 p.m. ET: October is no longer a sure thing for San Diego. Chris Young (9-7, 2.83) ranks second in the NL in ERA, but he's 0-4 with a 5.36 ERA in his last nine starts and winless since July 19. The nightmare season is almost over for Barry Zito (9-13, 4.56), who's gone 0-2 with a 5.63 ERA in his last three outings.

• Monday's complete list of probable starters

Alex Rodriguez • Alex Rodriguez may redefine the term "franchise player," but his agent, Scott Boras, denies that he might soon become a franchise owner. New York Magazine reported that the Yankees' third baseman could end up with the Cubs next season with a blockbuster contract that includes part ownership of the team. "Great players with great demand create great rumors," Boras said. "While I would enjoy having lunch with Mark Cuban and [John] Canning, at this point of the year that conversation would not include Alex Rodriguez. I have not talked to anyone." Canning, chairman of private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, is thought to be a favorite to buy the Cubs from Tribune Co., which is in the process of being purchased by an entity controlled by real estate investor Sam Zell. Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, submitted an application to examine the Cubs' finances.

• Mets OF Moises Alou extended his hitting streak to 27 games against the Marlins, setting a franchise record and giving him the longest streak in the major leagues this season. At 41, Alou is the oldest player to have a hitting streak extend past 21 games.

Where will Barry Bonds play in 2008?
Mike Mussina Mike Mussina won his 250th game as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 7-5. Mussina (11-10) allowed three earned runs on seven hits in seven innings and won his third straight start since rejoining the rotation. New York reached 90 wins for the seventh straight season, the third-longest streak in major league history behind the 1947-58 Yankees and 1904-12 Cubs.
AP Photo/Paul Connors
The Dodgers snapped a seven-game losing streak with a win over the Diamondbacks, but they'll be spectators come October.
Justin Verlander Justin Verlander earned his 18th win, and the Tigers topped the Royals 7-2. Verlander allowed two runs, five hits and two walks in six innings. He has 35 wins in his first two full seasons, the most for a Tigers pitcher since Frank Lary also had 35 from 1955-56.
Ryan Howard Phillies slugger Ryan Howard struck out for the 195th time this season in a 5-3 loss to the Nationals, tying the major league record. Howard matched Adam Dunn's mark set in 2004 with the Reds.
Tim Wakefield Tim Wakefield continues to struggle. Wakefield gave up four runs on seven hits in five innings, and the Red Sox lost to the Devil Rays 5-4. In his past four starts, the knuckleballer has allowed 21 runs over 17 2/3 innings.
Tensions run high as Rockies sweep Padres.
"Every pitch, every inning, every at-bat is important."
-- Phillies 2B Chase Utley



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