Chicago (66-55) at Houston (60-61)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 76° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Sat Aug 21, 2004
  • TV: WGN, FSSW
Preview | Box Score | Recap

With Nomar Garciaparra in the mix, the Chicago Cubs feel like they’re playoff bound.

“We had a good enough team to win the wild card without him,” Cubs second baseman Mark Grudzielanek said, nodding his head toward Garciaparra. “But now we’re a better team with the addition of him. We should be in the wild card. I can’t see us not winning it.”

Garciaparra and the Cubs look to continue their playoff push as they play the middle games of a weekend series with the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Garciaparra and Sammy Sosa each hit one of Chicago’s season-high six homers as the Cubs pounded the Astros 9-2 on Friday, their highest scoring game in two weeks. The Cubs have won three straight and remain just a half-game behind San Francisco in the NL wild-card standings.

Grudzielanek homered twice, and Moises Alou and Corey Patterson each added two-run shots. Sosa’s 567th homer moved him within six of Harmon Killebrew for seventh place on the career list.

Garciaparra, acquired from Boston in a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline, is batting .333 (23-for-69) with three homers and 11 RBIs in 17 games with Chicago.

“It sets the lineup with (Garciaparra) in the middle. He makes everybody else better,” said Cubs manager Dusty Baker.

Houston’s four-game winning streak was stopped as the Astros slipped 6 1/2 games back in the chase for the wild card.

“The disappointing thing was the way we lost it,” said Houston’s Morgan Ensberg, who hit a two-run double. “If we had put up more of a competitive game, it would have been better. You don’t want to get blown out. You never want to lose like this.”

The Astros will start Brandon Backe, who will make his first major league start after 61 career relief appearances. The 26-year-old right-hander was recalled from Triple-A New Orleans to take the rotation spot of Andy Pettitte, who will have season-ending surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow.

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Starting Pitchers

M. Prior NYY vs. B. Backe Hou
6-4 Record 5-3
4.02 ERA 4.30
139 K 54
48 BB 27
1.35 WHIP 1.52