Ump#039;s illness helps Reds win

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 15, 2003

CHICAGO - The Chicago Cubs can read a scoreboard as well as anyone, and they know just how far behind Houston they are in the NL Central race.

They also can read a calendar, and they know there's still plenty of time left.

The Cubs dropped two games behind Houston on Sunday after losing to the Cincinnati Reds 1-0. Russell Branyan hit an RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning to give the Reds the only run they needed.

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''It's a bump in the road,'' Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. ''There's 13, 14 games left. You can make up two games in two days. It's still going to go down to the wire.''

The Cubs don't play Houston anymore this season, but they should get some help from the schedule. While Houston has games left against St. Louis and San Francisco, the Cubs finish up the season with three below-.500 teams, the New York Mets, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

''We don't have to worry about them,'' Sammy Sosa said of the Astros. ''We just have to keep playing our game and see what happens.''

But the Cubs can't afford to have their offense go cold many more times like it did Sunday. Reds starter Josh Hall was making only his fourth major league appearance after spending the season in Double-A, but Chicago managed only seven singles off of him.

And when the Cubs did have runners in scoring position, they couldn't scratch out a run. In the sixth, Chicago loaded the bases with two outs on an intentional walk to Randall Simon, but Alex Gonzalez grounded out.

In the seventh, Kenny Lofton drew a two-out walk and Mark Grudzielanek followed with a single to shallow right. That brought up Sosa, and the Wrigley Field fans got to their feet and chanted ''Sam-my! Sam-my!''

But Sosa struck out.

''It was a gut check,'' Hall said. ''I knew it was do-or-die, and I had to go at him like everybody else.''

The lack of offense spoiled a dazzling outing by Carlos Zambrano (13-10), who lost for only the second time since the All-Star break.

Zambrano allowed only three hits and no walks through the first eight innings, retiring 13 straight at one point. But after he came out for the ninth inning, plate umpire Steve Rippley left the game with a headache.

Rippley had been hit in the chin with a foul tip in the sixth inning, and his headache got progressively worse. He was taken to an area hospital for observation, and Zambrano waited 13 minutes while second base umpire Jerry Meals changed to go behind the plate.

''It's never a good situation, but we do the best we can do with it,'' first base umpire Larry Vanover said.

But when the game started again, Zambrano got in trouble. He gave up a leadoff walk to Ray Olmedo, who took second on a sacrifice and went to third on a wild pitch. Zambrano retired D'Angelo Jimenez on a grounder, but Branyan lofted a single into shallow center to score the game's only run.

It was Branyan's lone hit of the day, and just the fourth of the afternoon for the last-place Reds.

Zambrano was gone when the Cubs clubhouse opened, but catcher Paul Bako said he didn't think the delay flustered Zambrano.

''That'd be nit-picking,'' Bako said. ''We didn't score and we didn't give him any support out there today.''

John Riedling (2-3) struck out one in one inning for the victory. Chris Reitsma struck out two in the ninth for his ninth save in 14 chances.