Chicago (79-64) at Cincinnati (67-78)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Cincinnati, OH
Temp: 89° F
  • Game info: 7:10 pm EDT Thu Sep 16, 2004
  • TV: FSCH, FSOH
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Sammy Sosa may have broken out of his slump at the perfect time.

The All-Star slugger will try to help the Chicago Cubs keep pace in the NL wild-card race as they open a four-game series with the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Sosa hit his first grand slam in more than two years Wednesday, and also added a solo shot to lead the Cubs to a 13-5 rout of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He finished 3-for-4 with a walk and five RBIs.

“He’s swinging the bat great,” Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. “When he’s swinging the bat like he is now, he can carry a team on his back.”

Lee, Sosa and Michael Barrett hit consecutive homers in the first inning, and Neifi Perez hit a two-run shot in the sixth to lead the Cubs to their third straight win and their fifth in six games.

Chicago trails the San Francisco Giants by a half-game in the NL wild-card race.

Sosa is having a subpar season by his own standards, hitting .261 with 32 home runs. He is batting just .247 since being activated from the disabled list on June 18 and was dropped to sixth in the batting order for the first time in 10 years on Saturday.

Before Wednesday, Sosa had been hitting .250 (7-for-28) with 10 strikeouts in September. He may have broken out of the funk with the 66th multihomer game of his career—his first since June 27 against the White Sox.

“It’s nice to see Sammy swinging the bat so well,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “Hopefully, this is the start of great things.”

With five teams within 3 1/2 games of the wild-card lead, the Cubs know they need to continue playing well as they embark on a 12-game road trip.

“It’s difficult, but I don’t want to hear anybody complaining,” Baker said. “We’re down the stretch, and the end of the race is always difficult.”

The Reds had won four of five before falling to the Philadelphia Phillies 9-1 on Wednesday. They finished with just four hits.

“It wasn’t the best of games for us,” Cincinnati manger Dave Miley said.

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Starting Pitchers

K. Wood ChC vs. J. Hancock StL
8-9 Record 5-2
3.72 ERA 5.09
144 K 36
51 BB 28
1.27 WHIP 1.59