One strike from a key victory, the Chicago Cubs wound up with yet another agonizing defeat that damaged their drive to the playoffs.

"It hurts big-time," Manager Dusty Baker said yesterday, sizing up a 4-3, 12-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

"It's tough to take, but it is what it is."

Austin Kearns tied the game with a two-out double in the ninth on an 0-2 pitch from closer LaTroy Hawkins. Kearns then hit a two-run homer in the 12th as the Reds sent the Cubs to their fourth loss in five games and shook their wild-card hopes.

"The last couple of times out it's like we and Hawk, we've got -- boy it seems like -- the two-out, two-strike blues," Baker said.

The Cubs fell a half-game behind the Houston Astros in the wild-card race and are tied with the San Francisco Giants.

* PADRES 4, GIANTS 3: Mark Loretta hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly with one out in the 10th and host San Diego knocked San Francisco out of first place in the wild-card race.

The Padres didn't have a hit in their winning rally, which was aided by two Giants' errors. San Francisco right fielder Dustan Mohr tripped over the mound in the Giants' bullpen down the right field line as he caught Loretta's flyball, and appeared to injure a knee.

Houston has a half-game lead in the wild card over the Giants and the Cubs.

The Padres are 21/2 games back.

San Francisco remained three games behind Los Angeles in the NL West.

* ASTROS 6, CARDINALS 4: Houston pushed closer to a playoff berth, winning its club-record 15th straight home game.

The Astros moved a half-game ahead of the Giants and the Cubs.

Roger Clemens was denied his 19th win -- and almost certainly a chance at his seventh 20-win season -- when he left with the score tied at 4 after the sixth.

But Jeff Bagwell had a run-scoring single in the seventh and Lance Berkman followed with an RBI double to help the Astros eclipse their best home winning streak set in 1980 at the Astrodome. Jeff Kent connected for the 300th homer of his career.

* ROCKIES 4, DODGERS 1: In Los Angeles, Jeromy Burnitz's RBI single with one out in the ninth sparked a three-run rally. The Dodgers' magic number for winning the NL West is two following the Giants' loss to the Padres.

* BRAVES 6, METS 3: Bobby Cox became the ninth manager in baseball history to win 2,000 games when host Atlanta scored four runs in the seventh to beat New York.

Of the eight managers who previously reached 2,000 wins, seven are in the Hall of Fame. The lone exception is Tony La Russa, still managing the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cox's overall record is 2,000-1,530, and he has guided Atlanta to 13 straight division titles.

* BREWERS 4, DIAMONDBACKS 1: Geoff Jenkins homered and drove in two runs, and Luis Vizcaino worked out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the ninth to help visiting Milwaukee snap a three-game losing streak.

* PHILLIES 8-8, PIRATES 4-3: Todd Pratt hit a three-run homer and host Philadelphia clinched consecutive winning seasons for the first time in 21 years with the home win in the first game of a doubleheader. In the nightcap, Chase Utley had three hits and two RBI, and the Phillies rallied with a six-run seventh inning.