Mark Prior will return to the Cubs' rotation and start tomorrow's game against the White Sox, Manager Dusty Baker said yesterday.

Prior has been on the disabled list since May 28 after he fractured his right elbow when he was hit by a line drive in a game against the Rockies the previous day.

Baker had planned to wait until today before picking tomorrow's starter, but announced his decision to go with Prior after the Cubs' 12-2 loss to the White Sox.

Prior began the season on the disabled list because of elbow inflammation and has been limited to nine starts this season. He is 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA.

Meantime, Kerry Wood, who made his third and final rehabilitation start for the Class AAA Iowa Cubs last night, said he's ready to rejoin Chicago.

* SCHILLING CLOSER: Curt Schilling moved closer to returning to the Red Sox' rotation, throwing another simulated game yesterday.

Schilling, sidelined with a right ankle injury since April 24, is expected to pitch in a bullpen session tomorrow and make a start for Class AAA Pawtucket next Wednesday.

"It's getting better. I felt good. I felt smooth," Schilling said after throwing 84 pitches from the mound before the Red Sox played the Phillies. "My pitches have gotten sharper the last couple days and I felt like I was ready."

Schilling said he plans to make more than one rehab start. After throwing 65 pitches in Cleveland on Monday, Schilling started lobbying to speed up his rehabilitation. However, he did back off a statement he made last week that his goal was to return by the all-star break.

* METS' MARK: The Mets set a National League record last night by hitting three sacrifice flies in the second inning against the Yankees.

Marlon Anderson singled off the glove of a leaping Tino Martinez at first base leading off. David Wright was walked by Mike Mussina, and Doug Mientkiewicz loaded the bases with a bunt single down the third base line.

Ramon Castro's sacrifice fly to right tied it at 1 and Wright advanced to third. Jose Reyes then hit a fly ball that CF Bernie Williams dropped. Wright scored and Reyes reached on the error and was credited with a sacrifice fly.

With Mike Cameron batting, Mussina attempted to pick off Mientkiewicz at second base but his throw was in the dirt and went onto the outfield grass, allowing both runners to advance. Cameron then flied out to right field, scoring Mientkiewicz for the record.

Three American League teams have accomplished the feat. The Yankees did it twice in 2000 and the White Sox did it in 1962.

* START DELAYED: The start of the Cardinals' game last night against the Pirates in St. Louis was delayed 30 minutes because a fire at an industrial plant downtown forced the closure of highways leading to Busch Stadium.

* GAGNE UPDATE: Eric Gagne did not need elbow ligament replacement surgery, and the Dodgers' all-star closer should return much sooner than expected.

Gagne had season-ending surgery on his right elbow yesterday. But Frank Jobe and Ralph Gambardella, who performed the surgery, discovered less damage than expected. Originally expected to miss 12 to 14 months, Gagne's recovery time has been reduced to six, and he will be ready for spring training.

* SEXSON SUSPENDED: Mariners 1B Richie Sexson was suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount by MLB after he threw objects onto the field following an ejection last weekend.

Sexson was ejected after arguing a called third strike last Saturday. After being thrown out, Sexson slammed his helmet on the field in disgust. He then threw a bucket of baseballs on the field in front of Seattle's dugout.

Sexson was set to begin serving his suspension at San Diego last night.

* MINOR LEAGUERS SUSPENDED: Five minor leaguers were suspended for 15 games by the commissioner's office for violating baseball's minor league drug policy.

That brings the number of minor leaguers penalized for violations under the minor league program to 75. Five have been suspended under the major league policy.

The five minor league players suspended were Jeffrey Bruksch, a pitcher in the Reds' organization; Sergio Garcia, an infielder in the Dodgers' farm system; Brian Walker, a pitcher in the Mets' system; Jeffrey Kennard, a pitcher in the Yankees' organization; and Josh Carter, an outfielder with Philadelphia.

-- From News Services

Things are looking up for Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who plans to make a start for Class AAA Pawtucket on Wednesday.