Alou's three-run shot sparks Cubs to win

CHICAGO (AP) -- Moises Alou is healthy and productive. And the

Chicago Cubs finally have the player they were expecting when they

signed him as a free agent before last season.

Alou hit a three-run homer against his former team and Chicago's

bullpen blanked Houston over the final 4 2-3 innings as the Cubs

beat the first-place Astros 6-4 Wednesday.

"Last year was a terrible year for me and the team," Alou

said. "I was hurting most of the time and we were playing badly.

It was a nightmare. ... This year is different."

The Cubs moved within 1{ games of the Astros in the NL Central.

Second-place St. Louis, which began the day one game back, played

at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

Alou had three of his greatest seasons with the Astros in 1998,

2000 and 2001, sitting out 1999 with a torn knee ligament.

He still talks fondly of his days with Houston and beating them

holds no special significance, he said.

"It would mean the same if it had been the Dodgers. It means

more because they are the team we are chasing, not because I played

there," Alou said.

Houston lefty Jeriome Robertson (11-6), bidding to become the

first rookie this season with 12 wins, entered the fifth with a 4-3

lead before giving up singles to Kenny Lofton and Alex Gonzalez.

Dan Miceli relieved and struck out Sammy Sosa before Alou lofted

a long drive to left, sending the Cubs ahead 6-4.

Alou, who had 15 homers and 61 RBI all of last season, now has

18 homers and 75 RBI with nearly seven weeks left.

"It was a tough blow for us, a three-run homer that gave them

the lead," Houston's Craig Biggio said. "He is a great hitter and

we played with him for four years. We all know what he can do. He's

a clutch hitter and once again he came up big, especially with the

wind blowing straight in."

Cubs starter Shawn Estes lost his control in the fifth and

walked the first two batters. After Jeff Bagwell struck out, Jeff

Kent grounded to shortstop, but Gonzalez's throw got by third

baseman Aramis Ramirez for an error loading the bases.

Estes then walked Richard Hidalgo on four pitches to force in

the tying run before Lance Berkman greeted reliever Mark Guthrie

(1-3) with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-3.

Guthrie got the final out of the inning and Antonio Alfonseca,

Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Remlinger and Joe Borowski combined to hold

Houston scoreless the rest of the way. Borowski pitched the ninth

for his 22nd save in 26 chances.

"We had a bases-loaded situation and Guthrie got us out of it.

They got a run, but we'll trade a run for an out there," Cubs

manager Dusty Baker said.

Houston got two singles in the ninth with two outs before

Borowski got Kent on a fly ball to end it.

"Everybody stepped up and did what they had to do to hold the

lead," Borowski said.

Hidalgo hit his 21st homer, a solo shot in the first, to give

the Astros an early lead.

Ramirez doubled in a run and Damian Miller had a two-run double

as the Cubs scored three in the second.

Morgan Ensberg's double, a walk to Bagwell and Kent's RBI single

cut it to 3-2 in the third and the Astros had a potential big

inning ended when Bagwell was thrown out trying to steal third with

Berkman batting.

^Notes:@ Sosa was 0-for-4 and struck out three times. ... Houston's

club record for wins by a rookie left-hander is 12, set by Jim

Deshaies in 1986. The Astros' overall rookie record is 14,

established two seasons ago by Roy Oswalt. ... Augie Ojeda got his

fourth straight start for the Cubs -- two at shortstop, two at

second -- but was 0-for-4 and is hitless in 14 at-bats since being

called up Aug. 3. ... Miceli is pitching for his fourth team this

season. He started with the Rockies and also spent time with the

Indians and Yankees before joining the Astros on July 29. He had

pitched nine scoreless innings for Houston before giving up Alou's

homer. ... Guthrie's win was his first since July 26, 2002, when he

was with the Mets.