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Cubs within a half game of the Astros

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Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Mark Prior throws in the first inning en route to a victory over the Pirates.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Mark Prior throws in the first inning en route to a victory over the Pirates.

Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Mark Prior struck out 14 in 7 2/3 innings as Chicago beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1 Sunday and closed within a half-game of first-place Houston in the NL Central.

Aramis Ramirez, traded by the Pirates to the Cubs two months ago, hit two solo homers.

Prior (17-6) 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.

Oliver Perez (4-10), apparently bothered by a blister on his pitching hand, allowed two runs, five hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings.

CARDINALS 6, ASTROS 4: At St. Louis, Edgar Renteria had a key two-run double to back Sterling Hitchcock (4-1), who allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings as the Cardinals overcame a 3-0 deficit against Jeriome Robertson (15-8).

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

Renteria's opposite-field double chased Robertson and 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.

REDS 4, PHILLIES 3: At Philadelphia, with the Phillies ahead 3-2, pinch-hitter Dernell Stenson hit a tying double in the seventh off Vicente Padilla (14-11) and scored on a bloop single by Tim Hummell. Philadelphia remained a half-game behind Florida in the NL wild-card race.

Jim Thome hit his 44th homer, a three-run shot that put the Phillies ahead 3-1 in the fourth.

Dan Serafini (1-3) pitched a scoreless sixth. Four relievers combined to hold the Phillies to one hit over the last four innings, with Chris Reitsma striking out Tomas Perez with runners on first and second for his 11th save.

BRAVES 8, MARLINS 0: At Atlanta, Greg Maddux (15-11) became the first pitcher in major league history 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.

EXPOS 4, METS 2: At New York, Wil Cordero homered and hit a tiebreaking double in the ninth off Grant Roberts (0-2) as Montreal completed its first four-game road sweep since April 3-6, 1998, at Wrigley Field.

The Mets matched a season high with their eighth consecutive loss and have dropped 16 of 17.

Luis Ayala (10-3) pitched a perfect eighth, and Rocky Biddle got three outs for his 33rd save.

BREWERS 6, DIAMONDBACKS 4: At Milwaukee, Richie Sexson, Keith Ginter and Bill Hall homered to back Wes Obermueller (1-5), who got his first major league win by allowing three runs and eight hits in six innings. He had lost his first seven major league decisions.

Arizona remained 4 1/2 games back in the NL wild-card race. Curt Schilling (8-9) gave up six runs and eight hits in five innings.

Dan Kolb got four outs for his 20th save.

ROCKIES 5, PADRES 3: At Denver, Larry Walker and Rene Reyes hit two-run homers for Colorado as Chin-hui Tsao (3-3) allowed two runs and five hits in six innings. He struck out a career-high seven.

Brian Fuentes got five outs for his fourth save in six chances. Adam Eaton (8-12) gave up three runs and five hits in six innings.

DODGERS 7, GIANTS 5: At Los Angeles, 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 as Los Angeles closed within 2 1/2 games of the NL wild-card lead.

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

Paul Quantrill (2-5) pitched a perfect seventh, 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.