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Sosa passes Mantle, but Cubs lose ground

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The television screens were blank, and the
enormous CD player in Sammy Sosa's locker was silent as the Chicago
Cubs packed for home.

They knew they'd let a big one get away.

Sosa climbed the career charts with two more homers, but the
Cubs let their one-game lead in the NL Central slip away Thursday
night as the Cincinnati Reds rallied for a 9-7 victory.

While the Cubs packed, Houston finished off a 6-1 victory that
pulled the Astros into a first-place tie with three games to go.
Instead of the Cubs heading home in control of the division, it's
back to a free-for-all for the final weekend.

"It's hard, but that's the truth," Sosa said. "We've got to
get ready for those three games."

After two days of being shut out and having their fans drowned
out by thousands of Cubs supporters, the Reds put a big kink in
Chicago's quest for its first division title since 1989.

A left-for-dead offense revived with a six-run rally in the
sixth, capped by Sean Casey's two-run homer. Outnumbered Reds fans
could stand up and be heard for the first time all series.

"It's nice to hit a home run in that kind of game," said
Casey, who hadn't homered since Aug. 24. "It was a game they
needed. I knew the fans were with us tonight when I hit the home
run and heard the roar. I guess they wanted to see some runs, and
they only had a three-day wait."

Sosa's two-run homer put Chicago ahead 3-0 in the third and
moved him ahead of Mickey Mantle into 10th place on the career list
with 537. It also gave him 100 RBI for the ninth straight season,
the first time it's been done in the National League.

By the time he rounded the bases again in the eighth on a solo
homer, his 39th, the Cubs had lost their lead and their momentum.

Carlos Zambrano (13-11), the youngest player on the Cubs'
opening-day roster, couldn't hold the early lead. Ray Olmedo's RBI
single in the third broke Cincinnati's streak of 22 scoreless
innings.

The Reds' offense was inept against Kerry Wood and Shawn Estes
in the first two games of the series, managing only six hits. Five
walks by Zambrano gave it a jump-start.

"All of the responsibility is on me," said Zambrano, 23.

Instead of sneaking peaks at the left-field scoreboard to keep
track of the Astros' game, the Cubs got engrossed in their own
meltdown. The Reds sent nine batters to the plate for six runs in
the sixth, their biggest inning since Sept. 9.

Casey's homer off Mark Guthrie completed the rally and made it
8-4. Casey added an RBI single in the eighth.

Todd Van Poppel (2-1) gave up four runs in five innings, then
left for a pinch hitter during the comeback. Three relievers held
on, with Chris Reitsma pitching the ninth for his 12th save in 18
chances despite allowing Randall Simon's home run.

Now, the Cubs' fate will be decided against another
trade-stripped club, the Pittsburgh Pirates, during a three-game
series at Wrigley.

"That's what a pennant race is all about," manager Dusty Baker
said. "It's going to go to the end. As a club, we don't do things
easy."

The Cubs could take a little solace in Sosa's performance, an
indication that their most dangerous hitter is back in form for the
final weekend.

"This is the time they really need me," Sosa said.

He entered the series in a slump but hit three homers in the
last two games. He joined Jimmie Foxx and Rafael Palmeiro as the
only players to get 35 homers and 100 RBI nine straight years.

Sosa also became the first NL player to drive in 100 runs in
nine consecutive seasons -- Willie Mays and Mel Ott reached the mark
eight straight years. His 63rd multihomer game left him tied with
Mays for fourth on the career list.

It's a rousing finish to one of Sosa's most disturbing seasons.
He missed 17 games early in the season because of a problem with
his big right toe, and served a seven-game suspension for using a
corked bat. Many of his best moments have come at the Reds' new ballpark,
where he hit his 500th homer on April 4 and then homered in his
return from the suspension on June 18.

Game notes
Baker changed his pitching plans for the weekend series,
deciding that 17-game winner Mark Prior will go on Friday, a day
early, while Matt Clement is pushed back to Saturday. ... Mark
Grudzielanek's double was the Cubs' 300th of the season. They set
the club record with 340 in 1931, and have reached the mark only
one other time since -- in 1935, with 303. ... Kenny Lofton was
2-for-5 with a solo homer, leaving him 11-for-25 in the last six
games.