Jeff Bagwell hit a two-run homer and the Astros overcame a sloppy start, remaining atop the NL wild-card standings with a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies last night in Houston.
The Astros entered the game tied with San Francisco, which opened a three-game series against the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers later last night. Houston, which has won a club-record 16 straight at home, moved two games ahead of the Chicago Cubs, who've lost four straight and six of seven.
Mike Gallo (2-0) earned the win by getting the last out of the third inning, and Brad Lidge got three outs for his 28th save. They were two of seven pitchers to hold off the Rockies for Houston's seventh win in eight games, and 11th in 14.
* BRAVES 5, CUBS 4: It's almost over for Chicago. A late-season collapse when the Cubs needed to play their best baseball has left them on the verge of wild-card elimination.
Four straight losses and six defeats in the last seven games had Manager Dusty Baker almost in disbelief after the Cubs' ninth-inning rally came up short in a loss to NL East champion Atlanta.
"We're due to win one of these. Geez, man. I can't explain it," Baker said. "It's a bad period right now.
"I don't see tightness. If anything, looseness rather than tightness. We're not hitting the ball the way we're capable of hitting it. And when the eighth and ninth hitters hit two-run homers, it's not going to make for a good day."
Pitcher Mike Hampton hit a two-run homer off Kerry Wood and so did No. 8 hitter Dewayne Wise as the Braves wrapped up the NL's second seed in the playoffs.
Wood gave up 10 hits and five runs in seven innings. The Cubs rallied with three runs in the ninth before Corey Patterson struck out and Derrek Lee grounded out to end the game.
Chicago dropped two games back of Houston in the wild-card standings with two games to play.
* GIANTS 4, DODGERS 2: Kirk Rueter pitched seven strong innings and San Francisco kept host Los Angeles from clinching its first NL West title since 1995. The Giants remained tied with the Astros in the wild-card race.
J.T. Snow homered and former Dodger Marquis Grissom doubled home two runs for the Giants, who need a sweep of the three-game series to either force a one-game playoff or win the division based on a 10-9 season record against the Dodgers if Houston loses at least once.
* CARDINALS 4, BREWERS 1: Rick Ankiel won his first game in 31/2 years with a four-inning relief stint marred only by an errant curveball that beaned a batter, leading St. Louis at home.
Ankiel (1-0), activated from the disabled list Sept. 1, gave up two hits in his 50-pitch outing, including a home run by Keith Ginter. Ankiel struck out two and walked none his first victory since April 8, 2000, when he beat Arizona's Randy Johnson.
Ankiel, whose career was derailed by record wildness in the 2000 playoffs, beaned Dave Krynzel on a hanging curveball with one out in the sixth -- his final inning. Krynzel suffered a concussion and was removed from the game.
Ankiel bounced another curveball for a wild pitch against the next batter, Lyle Overbay, before inducing an inning-ending flyout.
* PADRES 3, DIAMONDBACKS 2: San Diego found out between the second and third innings that it was eliminated from wild-card contention, then rallied for a win in Phoenix. Pinch hitter Miguel Ojeda hit a two-run homer for the Padres, who were knocked out of the playoff race when Houston beat Colorado.
* REDS 5, PIRATES 1: Barry Larkin homered in perhaps one of his final at-bats in a Cincinnati uniform, and Adam Dunn hit his 46th homer -- the fourth-highest total in Reds history -- to lead the Reds at home.
* PHILLIES 6, MARLINS 2: Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco homered, Cory Lidle pitched six solid innings and host Philadelphia secured second place in the NL East.
* EXPOS 4, METS 2: Terrmel Sledge hit a tiebreaking RBI double in the eighth inning and Montreal opened the team's final series before the franchise moves to Washington with a victory at Shea Stadium.