Cubs move within half-game of lead

CHICAGO (AP) -- Six weeks left and the NL Central can't get much
closer. The Chicago Cubs have a simple plan for the days ahead:
stick around.

"The way the season has been it's been somebody up and somebody
down, but never really ever out of it," Chicago right-hander Matt
Clement said Thursday after the Cubs tightened the race by beating
Houston 7-1 and knocking the Astros into a first-place tie with the
St. Louis Cardinals.

"It looks like all three teams have the talent to stay in this
thing or win this thing," said Clement, whose team is one-half
game back.

"We knew no matter what happened, good or bad, coming into this
series, that there are 41 games left after these," said Houston's
Craig Biggio, who was 1-for-16 as Houston won the opener and
dropped the final three at Wrigley Field.

"They are knocking at our doorstep, they are right behind us. I
still think it will come down to the last weekend," Biggio added.

Alex Gonzalez, in a 2-for-46 slump when the series began, had
three hits, including a homer, and drove in three Thursday.

"That's the way it's been going the last couple of weeks, it
seems to be a different guy every game," Gonzalez added. "That's
what it's going to take to win a championship, to get everybody
involved, even the guys on the bench."

The Astros managed just eight runs in the four games as some of
their top hitters, especially Biggio and Lance Berkman (1-for-15 in
the series with four strikeouts Thursday), struggled.

"We had chances. We had base runners on with the right people
up. We just didn't get those hits," manager Jimy Williams said
after Thursday's loss.

"We talked about it before, we are going to go through some
highs and lows," Biggio said, crediting Chicago's pitching.
"There are five good starting pitchers over there and you are not
going to score many runs, especially if the wind is blowing in."

Clement (10-10) lasted 5 2-3 innings, allowing three hits and a
run, but walked four and made two throwing errors. The Cubs bullpen
gave up just two hits over the final 3 1-3 innings.

Hee Seop Choi hit a two-out, two-run double in the first off
knuckleballer Jared Fernandez (1-2) to get the Cubs started.

Kenny Lofton had a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0 and Gonzalez
added an RBI double for a four-run lead in the fourth.

Reliever Rick White, who'd been designated for assignment by the
White Sox earlier in the month and then signed by the Astros,
joined Houston on Thursday and the rust showed in his one inning of
work. He hit two batters and walked two to force in a run as the
Cubs went ahead 5-0 in the fifth.

Gonzalez hit a two-run homer off Brad Lidge in the eighth.
^Notes:@ The series drew a Wrigley Field four-game record 159,040
fans. ... Battling the sun, Biggio dropped Sammy Sosa's fly ball in
the third for a two-base error -- the first error in center this
season for the converted second baseman. ...To make room for White,
the Astros optioned RHP Kirk Saarloos to Triple-A New Orleans. ...
Right after Gonzalez homered, jets practicing for air show above
the field, scaring players and fans alike. "We couldn't celebrate
very long because we were all ducking under the bats," Gonzalez
said. ... The Cubs optioned RHP Juan Cruz to Triple-A Iowa after
the game.

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