<
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81-66, 39-37 Away
12
Final
4
87-60, 41-32 Home

Cubs gain on Astros, keep pace with Cards

HOUSTON (AP) -- Fred McGriff gave the Chicago Cubs the push they
needed to stay in contention for a playoff spot.

McGriff drove in a season-high five runs with a double and home
run, and Sammy Sosa hit his 55th homer, powering the Chicago Cubs
over the Houston Astros 12-4 Friday night.

"We've dug ourselves a hole for the rest of the season,"
McGriff said. "Every game is a big game. If we can continue to win
on the road, we can give ourselves a chance when we get back home.
For the rest of the season every game is a must-win big game."

Houston, which had won four straight, saw its NL Central lead
shrink to 3 1/2 games over second-place St. Louis. The Cubs, who broke
open the game with a five-run seventh inning, remained 2 1/2 games
behind the Cardinals in the wild card race.

"We had a good outing for our offense," Cubs manager Dusty
Baker said. "Fred had the two-run double and three-run homer and I
tried to give everyone an opportunity. When you put 12 runs on the
board against this club, we'll take it but there is no safe lead in
this ballpark."

Added security checks greeted the sellout crowd of 42,621 in the
first game at Enron Field since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on
New York and Washington.

A group of Eagle scouts carried a large American flag, the St.
Thomas Episcopal School Pipe Band played "Amazing Grace" on
bagpipes and the Kingwood High School choir sang the national
anthem. The 15-minute ceremony ended with shouts of U-S-A, U-S-A.

A seventh-inning fireworks display left a smokey haze on the
field that delayed the game for about five minutes.

"They (fireworks) were exciting but they forgot where the smoke
might go," Baker said. "If I'm a hitter I don't want to be facing
(Kyle) Farnsworth with smoke in my eyes."

Sosa's 29th solo homer put the Cubs ahead 1-0 in the first.

"I think the situation we're in, is that there is no
tomorrow," Sosa said. "The Astros are in first place and for us
to get there, or to get the wild card, we've got to play hard and
win the rest of the way."

McGriff went 3-for-5 with a two-run double in the seventh off
Nelson Cruz and a three-run homer in the eighth off Wilfredo
Rodriguez, who made his major league debut.

McGriff has homered in 39 ballparks, tying the major league
record set by Ellis Burks and matched just Thursday by Mark
McGwire, who connected in Pittsburgh.

"It was a fastball," McGriff said. "Rodriguez throws hard. He
has a good arm and he challenges you. He's not afraid to pitch. The
last four or five games, we've been swinging the bats well."

Houston led 3-2 in the sixth before Rondell White's RBI single
off Ron Villone (6-7) and Bill Mueller's go-ahead double. Villone
had retired 11 of 12 batters entering the inning.

Chicago beat up Cruz in the seventh, going ahead 9-3 on Eric
Young's triple off Cruz, Ricky Gutierrez's RBI single, McGriff's
double, Michael Tucker's RBI triple and Mueller's sacrifice fly.

Jeff Bagwell's two-run single in the fifth had put the Astros
ahead 3-2.

Lance Berkman went 3-for-3 with a single, double, his 32nd homer
and a walk.

"We didn't pitch real well," Astros manager Larry Dierker
said. "At least we got the chance to give some guys their first
chance in the major leagues.

"Cruz didn't have a very good game. If he'd held the line like
he usually does, it would have been a different game. I guess he
was due to have a bad game."

Carlos Zambrano (1-1) pitched two-thirds of an inning for the
victory.

Game notes
Chicago is 19-23 since Aug. 1. ... Sosa, who homered and
doubled, has 92 extra-base hits, five shy of the team record Hack
Wilson set in 1930. ... Villone's fifth inning double was the
second in 107 career at-bats. ... Rodriguez allowed four earned
runs as he became the Astros' 24th pitcher this season, a team
record. ... Ricky Stone made it 25 when he pitched the ninth.