Sosa hits No. 41; Prior overpowers Astros

CHICAGO (AP) -- Mark Prior mowed down the Houston Astros and

showed that the best way to pitch with the wind blowing out at

Wrigley Field was to keep them from putting the ball in play.


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The Cubs' rookie struck out 12 in just six innings of work

Thursday, including seven straight to tie a club record, as Chicago

beat the Astros 6-4.

"It was aware of it, it felt good,'' Prior said.

"I've always been a strikeout pitcher. I think everybody

considers me one. But it's not my goal to strike out guys.''

Prior, whose season high of 13 strikeouts was set Aug. 4 against

Colorado, got his first six strikeouts during the streak on missed

swings. The seven in a row tied the Cubs record shared by Jamie

Moyer and Kerry Wood, and it was three short of Tom Seaver's major

league record.

Prior allowed three earned _ one earned _ five hits and one

walk. He has 129 strikeouts in 100 innings since joining the Cubs

earlier this season, including 43 in his last 27 innings _ a span

in which he's walked just three.

The Cubs hit five homers with Sammy Sosa lifting his major

league leading 41st in the eighth.

Back in 1998, Cubs rookie Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros. It looked like Prior was on track to match it for a time.

"He just pitched a great game,'' said Jeff Bagwell, who hit a

two-run homer off Prior in the fifth. "It's tough to pitch with

the wind blowing out.''

The Cubs organization has decided to watch Prior _ the No. 2

pick in the 2001 draft out of Southern Cal _ more closely and limit

the number of innings he pitches this season.

"I think we all know going into the season what management had

in store,'' Prior said. "Obviously the future is more important

then right now. Whether we were in this pennant race, or we were

not I think the feelings would be the same.''

Holding a 1-0 lead in the second, Prior gave up a leadoff triple

to Richard Hidalgo, an RBI single to Brad Ausmus and a double to

Adam Everett.

Then he got on his strikeout roll.

"When Hidalgo got on base in the second inning, I just wanted

to minimize the damage, unfortunately I gave up two more hits and I

had second and third with no outs and so I went right after those

guys and wanted to strike out the side and that's what I did,''

Prior said.

Prior then struck out pitcher Kirk Saarloos, Orlando Merced and

Craig Biggio, and he fanned Lance Berkman, Bagwell and Geoff Blum in the third.

He threw a called third strike past Hidalgo to open the fourth

for his seventh straight before Ausmus walked to end the streak.

"I feel like I'm throwing well, making quality pitches whether

it's a strike or a ball,'' Prior said.

"I'm putting it in the spots where I want it to be and

hopefully I'll get a popup or a swing and a miss.''

With Houston leading 3-2, Fred McGriff tied it in the sixth

against Saarloos (5-3) with his 475th homer, which matched Hall of

Famers Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 21st on the career list.

"They did a better job of getting the ball up in the air today,

then we did,'' Bagwell said.

Corey Patterson and Mark Bellhorn hit consecutive homers off

Saarloos with two outs in the seventh. Sosa, who leads the major

leagues in homers, connected off Brandon Puffer leading off the

eighth for a 6-3 lead.

Merced hit an RBI single in the ninth off Antonio Alfonseca, who

got his 14th save in 20 chances. Geoff Blum, who had struck out

four times earlier, hit a game-ending flyout with two on.

Houston batters struck out 17 times, with Berkman and Saarloos

fanning three times each.

Jeff Fassero (5-6) got one out for the win, and it was a key

one: He fanned Blum to strand the bases loaded in the seventh.

Saarloos, who had won five straight decisions, allowed five runs

and seven hits in seven innings, giving up four solo home runs.

Moises Alou hit an RBI single in the first and gave the Cubs a

2-1 lead with a home run in the fourth. Bagwell's two-run homer in

the fifth put Houston ahead.

Game notes
Bellhorn has 19 homers, a team record for a switch hitter. ... Wood struck out seven in a row against Houston on May 6, 1998, when he fanned 20 to tie the major league record for a nine-inning game. Moyer had struck out seven straight against San Francisco on

July 3, 1987. ... Sosa has a 10-game hitting streak. ... Saarloos

beat the Cubs on July 20 for his first career win.