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Dusty drives Cubs to NL Central title

Chicago Cubs celebrate Saturday after clinching the National League Central Division Championship.
Chicago Cubs celebrate Saturday after clinching the National League Central Division Championship.
M Spencer Green, Associated Press

CHICAGO — Dusty Baker fulfilled his mission.

Hired to help the Cubs forget their losing ways, the first-year manager guided Chicago to its first division title in 14 years with a doubleheader sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-2 and 7-2 Saturday.

The Cubs — 67-95 just a year ago — clinched the NL Central and advanced to meet Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs.

The victory touched off a raucous celebration at Wrigley Field where 40,121 fans, many wearing coats on a chilly 60-degree day, began to chant "Let's Go Cubs" in the seventh inning.

Sammy Sosa hit his 40th homer and Matt Clement pitched 7 2/3 strong innings as the Cubs earned their first division championship since Don Zimmer led to the NL East crown in 1989.

The Cubs are in the postseason for the first time since 1998 when they beat Baker and the San Francisco Giants in a one-game playoff for the NL wild card.

Chicago got its chance to clinch because of second-place Houston's 5-2 loss to Milwaukee earlier in the day. Sosa became the first NL player to reach 40 homers six straight times with a 450-foot blast in the first off Ryan Vogelsong (2-2). Clement (14-12) got the win and Joe Borowski got his 33rd save.

Mark Prior (18-6) pitched 6 2/3 impressive innings and Damian Miller homered in the opener. Josh Fogg (10-9) took the loss.

BREWERS 5, ASTROS 2: At Houston, Astros lost a chance to stay in the NL Central race, falling to Scott Podsednik and the last-place Milwaukee Brewers. Podsednik had three hits and three runs as the Brewers beat Houston for the second straight day.

Leading 2-1 to start the sixth, the Brewers got five straight hits off Ron Villone (6-6) and Brad Lidge in a three-run inning that put Milwaukee in control.

Wes Helms hit a two-out home run, his 23rd. And after consecutive singles by Eddie Perez, Royce Clayton and Wes Obermueller (2-5), Podsednik doubled off the left-field wall and two more runs scored for a 5-1 lead.

CARDINALS 3, DIAMONDBACKS 2: At Phoenix, Eduardo Perez homered and Edgar Renteria became the first NL shortstop in 18 years to drive in 100 runs as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks. Montreal's Hubie Brooks was the last NL shortstop to have at least 100, in 1985. Mark Grace made what was expected to be his final major league start. Grace, who announced his retirement Friday, doubled and singled for Arizona.

Sterling Hitchcock (5-1) won for the first time in 11 starts against the Diamondbacks. Jason Isringhausen got his 21st save.

Chris Capuano (2-4) was the losing pitcher.

PHILLIES 7, BRAVES 6 (10): At Philadelphia, Jim Thome hit two homers to take the league lead with 47 and scored the winning run in the 10th inning, leading Philadelphia past NL East champion Atlanta in the next-to-last game at Veterans Stadium. Javy Lopez hit his major league-record 42nd homer as a catcher this season, and Julio Franco and Gary Sheffield also went deep for the Braves.

Atlanta entered with a one-game lead over San Francisco for the NL's best record. The Giants played a doubleheader against Los Angeles.

Rheal Cormier (8-0) pitched a scoreless 10th for the Phillies. Ray King (3-4) took the loss.

METS 9, MARLINS 3: At Miami, a day after Florida clinched the NL wild-card spot, manager Jack McKeon used a makeshift lineup and the Marlins lost to Jae Weong Seo and the New York Mets. The Marlins, who had not committed an error in five games, made three miscues — one in each of the first three innings. The Mets ended Florida's five-game winning streak.

Joe McEwing hit a go-ahead single in a seven-run seventh against Michael Tejera (3-4).

Seo (9-12) allowed two runs and five hits through six innings.

ROCKIES 10, PADRES 2: At San Diego, Denny Stark combined with three relievers on a two-hitter as Colorado hit four home runs in a 10-2 win over San Diego. Stark (3-3) allowed just one single through five shutout innings before giving up a two-out homer to Brian Giles.

REDS 4, EXPOS 2: At Cincinnati, Brian Reith pitched five shutout innings and Sean Casey and Russell Branyan each hit two-run homers to give Cincinnati a win over Montreal. Reith and relievers John Riedling and Chris Reitsma teamed up to limit Montreal to five hits. Reith (2-3) allowed just two hits and two walks with one strikeout to earn his first win in nine career starts.

Livan Hernandez (15-10) gave up seven hits in his eighth complete game of the season.

DODGERS 5, GIANTS 0: At San Francisco, rookie Edwin Jackson pitched six scoreless innings, working around eight walks as Los Angeles beat San Francisco in the first game of a day-night doubleheader. Jackson (2-1) gave up two hits and struck out seven. He outpitched fellow rookie Jerome Williams (7-5).