Cubs closing in on Houston

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 22, 2003

The Chicago Cubs are just a half-game behind Houston in the NL Central with a week left in the regular season. Not bad for a team that hasn't finished first since 1989.

''We've got six games left, so we've got to win at least five to make the playoffs,'' Aramis Ramirez said after homering twice Sunday in a 4-1 victory over his old team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Mark Prior (17-6) struck out 14 in 7 2-3 innings as Chicago rebounded from a pair of losses to the Pirates and split the four-game series. The Cubs gained ground because Houston lost 6-4 in St. Louis.

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''The years we've won have usually gone down to the last week,'' Houston's Craig Biggio said. ''It's always a grind. We have the right mixture of veterans and young players to handle it.''

Prior gave up six hits - three in the eighth - and retired 15 in a row at one point, nine on strikeouts. Joe Borowski pitched the ninth for his 32nd save.

Cardinals 6, Astros 4

Edgar Renteria had a key two-run double to back Sterling Hitchcock (4-1), who allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings. St. Louis overcame a 3-0 deficit against Jeriome Robertson (15-8).

So Taguchi hit a two-run homer for the Cardinals, who took two of three from Houston and closed within four games of the lead.

Renteria's opposite-field double tied the score 4-4 in the fifth, and Eli Marrero's single off the leg of reliever Ricky Stone drove in the go-ahead run. Jason Isringhausen got three outs for his 19th save.

Braves 8, Marlins 0

Greg Maddux (15-11) became the first pitcher to win at least 15 games in 16 consecutive seasons. Cy Young did it in 15 straight years.

Maddux allowed one hits in five innings for his 288th win, tying Tommy John for 22nd place. Maddux was struck on the right ankle by a hard grounder off the bat of Juan Pierre for the final out of the third. He sustained a bruise and expects to make his next start.

Chipper Jones had four RBIs. Carl Pavano (11-3) allowed six runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings, and visiting Florida had just four hits.

Dodgers 7, Giants 5

Los Angeles closed within 2 1/2 games of the NL wild-card lead as Shawn Green hit a two-run homer, and Robin Ventura, Adrian Beltre and Jeromy Burnitz hit consecutive drives off Kevin Correia in the fourth to tie it at 5.

At Los Angeles, Dave Roberts' RBI triple against Jim Brower (8-5) put the Dodgers ahead in the seventh.

Paul Quantrill (2-5) pitched a perfect inning, and Eric Gagne got four straight outs for his major league-leading 53rd save, four shy of Bobby Thigpen's record. Gagne has converted 61 straight chances dating to last year.