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Reds, Houston even with 3 left

The Associated Press

For the sixth time this season, Cincinnati held a one-game lead over Houston.

Thursday, September 30, 1999

For the sixth time this season, Cincinnati held a one-game lead over Houston. And for the sixth time, the Astros prevented the deficit from getting any bigger when Mike Hampton won his National League-high 21st game Wednesday night in a 4-1 victory over the Reds.

”I’ve felt all along there is a lot more pressure with the team behind you playing well,” Dierker said. ”I’ve said more than a few times that it’s easier being the hunter than the hunted. Now we’re not and they’re not – we’re tied again.”

Hampton (21-4) struck out eight in eight innings, and Billy Wagner faced four batters in the ninth for his 38th save and No. 100 for his career. Daryle Ward supplied all the offense Houston needed with a two-run homer.

With three games remaining, the Astros and Reds are both 95-64 after splitting the two-game series. In the wild-card race, each was 1 1/2 games ahead of the New York Mets.

If the Reds and Astros finish with the same record and the Mets finish out of the wild card, Cincinnati would win the division because it beat Houston 9-4 in the season series, and to sweep, teammate Sean Casey sounded almost grateful to leave the Astrodome still tied for first place.

”We’re right where we want to be,” Casey said. ”We’re going to be excited going into Milwaukee. I’m going to catch a movie, get something to eat and go in relaxed Friday.”

Hampton stranded at least one runner in scoring position in the first three innings without allowing a run. Cincinnati’s Steve Parris (11-3) retired nine of the first 11 batters he faced.

Houston, which had lost eight of 11 and scored six runs in its previous three games, broke through in the fourth inning after Larkin’s miscue allowed Jeff Bagwell to reach first.

Carl Everett doubled, and Ken Caminiti drove in the game’s first run with an RBI grounder. Ward followed with a liner off the left-field facade for a 3-0 lead.

”I kind of hit it off the end of the bat,” Ward said. ”I didn’t know if it was going to go out or not.”

The Reds’ Pokey Reese hit an RBI single in the sixth, but Houston got the run back in the bottom half on Caminiti’s sacrifice fly.

Hampton, who tied the Astros’ record for wins set by Joe Niekro in 1979, allowed one run and seven hits in eight innings with eight strikeouts.

”(Hampton) is not the kind of guy you can give a three-run lead to,” Reds manager Jack McKeon said. ”You have to admire the guy. He hustles all the way. He’s like Pete Rose. He’s a good fielder and a good athlete.”

Parris gave up all four runs – but just one earned – and six hits in five-plus innings.

Notes: In the event the Reds and Astros finish with the same record and the Mets finish with a worse record, Cincinnati would win the division because it beat Houston 9-4 in the season series and the Astros would be the wild card. … The Astros were a combined 13-25 against the Braves, Mets, Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks. … Carl Everett is hitting .346 with runners in scoring position (470-for-136). … Scott Williamson, from the Houston suburb of Friendswood, leads all NL rookies in wins, relief ERA and saves. … Casey’s first inning-double was just the third extra-base hit Hampton allowed to a left-handed batter this year. … Cincinnati finished 156-160 at the Astrodome, which closes as a baseball park Sunday.