Cubs pull within 1 1/2 games of Astros

CHICAGO (AP) -- The thought of the playoffs is enough to make
even the worst of the Chicago Cubs' aches and pains go away.

Matt Clement was dazzling despite pitching with a strained
groin, matching his career high with his 13th victory Monday night
as the Cubs gained ground in the NL Central with a 4-1 victory over
the New York Mets.

The victory pulled Chicago within 1½ games of first-place
Houston, which was idle.

"That was an outstanding performance by Matt," Cubs manager
Dusty Baker said. "This time of year, you've got to put pain out
of your mind if you can without threatening serious injury to

Clement (13-11) has been bothered by a strained groin since his
Sept. 3 start, when he got hit in a calf and then had to run the
bases. He had to leave his previous start in the sixth inning
despite having a no-hit bid and a 4-0 lead.

Though he has been improving with daily treatment, he still isn't
100 percent. But it sure didn't look that way against the Mets.

"I doubt it'll be completely gone until I get to rest it in the
offseason," Clement said. "But it's not holding me back any. At
least, I think I'm able to combat it."

New York managed just three infield singles against Clement in
seven innings, and the only run he allowed was unearned. He struck
out five and walked two.

Of his 102 pitches, 64 were strikes.

"He did what they hoped for," Mets manager Art Howe said. "He
went out and shut us down."

He got some help from his teammates, too. The Cubs scored three
runs in the first inning off Jeremy Griffiths, getting a two-run
double by Randall Simon. The RBI were Simon's first at Wrigley
Field since he was acquired from Pittsburgh on Aug. 16.

Simon has driven in 17 runs on the road with the Cubs.

"When you see a guy battling out there and you know he's
in pain, it just gives you the strength to give everything you've
got for him," Simon said of Clement. "Because that's what he's
doing for us."

Joe Borowski pitched a perfect ninth for his 29th save in 33

The Cubs improved to 11-4 in September, and they need every one
of those wins. Though they have an easier schedule than Houston,
they don't play the Astros again this season.

"Everything's essential right now," Clement said.

It shows on the field. Griffiths (1-3) was the fourth straight
pitcher the Cubs were seeing for the first time, and they wasted no
time getting acquainted. Kenny Lofton and Mark Grudzielanek led off
the first inning with singles and, one out later, Moises Alou hit an RBI single.

Simon followed with his two-run double, giving Chicago a 3-0 lead.

"To get those three runs early is huge," Clement said. "I
can't say enough about those guys."

The Cubs got another run in the fourth thanks to some shoddy
defense. Aramis Ramirez hit a grounder to third, but the ball
bounced off Ty Wigginton's glove and rolled under a tarp along the
left-field wall.

Ramirez advanced all the way to second on the error, scoring one
out later on Paul Bako's triple.

Griffiths gave up four runs -- three earned -- and six hits in
four innings.

The Mets spoiled Clement's shutout bid in the fifth. Jorge Velandia led off with a single, and Jeff Duncan laid down a bunt to move him over. But Clement appeared to slip as he tried to field the ball, and Duncan reached on an infield single.

"I don't really think my leg affected me on that play; I just
had bad timing," Clement said. "When I got the ball and turned, I
wasn't expecting him to be a step and a half from first base. I
think I was kind of shocked and I had to hurry up and throw it."

One out later, Roger Cedeno lined out to Ramirez. But when
Ramirez threw to first for the double play, the ball hit Duncan on
the backside, allowing Velandia to take third.

He scored on Clement's wild pitch to cut Chicago's lead to 4-1.
But the Mets couldn't get Duncan home, as Clement struck out Danny Garcia to end the inning.

Game notes
Clement also had 13 victories in 2000, when he was with the
San Diego Padres. ... Grudzielanek is hitting 10-for-18 over his
last four games. ... Ramirez's error was his 30th of the year but
only his seventh since being traded to the Cubs on July 22. ... The
Cubs announced before the game that they will retire Ron Santo's
No. 10. Billy Williams and Ernie Banks are the only other Cubs to
have had their numbers retired.