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One Step Back...

... and then, a giant step forward.

As bad as the Cubs looked Tuesday night, that's how good they looked last night in Mark Prior's gem, beating the Astros 6-0 to move back to within a half game of first place, and even in the loss column. With the Pirates' 14-0 blowout of the Cardinals, that also moved the Cubs back into 2nd place. St. Louis' pitching staff has allowed more than 100 more runs than the Cubs' has, and despite their great offense, that's probably going to make the difference. I expect the Cardinals to fall out of contention and this race to come down to the Cubs and Astros.

The Cubs clinched the season series against Houston -- 9-6 with one game left, today, with Kerry Wood's back apparently fine and ready to go.

You could tell as early as the first inning that Mark Prior had absolutely electric stuff -- he struck out the first five hitters of the game and made everyone look silly until he had all of us thinking -- not, as I told my son Mark, saying "no-hitter". Mark didn't know of the baseball superstition to not mention a no-hitter in progress, so maybe he jinxed it when he mentioned that word as early as the 2nd inning. In less than two weeks it'll be 31 years since the Cubs' last no-hitter, Milt Pappas' 8-0 gem over the Padres which should have been a perfect game, except that then-rookie umpire Bruce Froemming called a borderline pitch ball four on what would have been the final out. Froemming has spent most of the last 31 years hating the Cubs anyway; that was just a sneak preview.

Anyway.

Several of the new Cub acquisitions produced -- Tony Womack had three hits and Randall Simon hit a monstrous three-run homer deep into the right field seats that made it 6-0 in the sixth, and allowed Dusty to pretty much empty his bench late in the game. There's another lefty -- Ron Villone -- starting today, so Eric Karros will no doubt get the start at 1B. Let us hope that Dusty doesn't get platoon-itis and start Doug Glanville, who appears to have forgotten how to hit, despite the meaningless single he had last night.

The doomsayers will be happy that Prior was pulled after throwing seven innings last night, only 100 pitches, though he probably could have gone longer than that. What I really didn't understand was the use of Joe Borowski again in a non-save situation; often, these things turn into run-producing nonsense, since many closers lose their focus when the game isn't that close, and then they're not available the next day. Luckily, Borowski shut down the Astros in good order in the 9th and threw only 15 pitches, so he should be ready tonight.

According to the Sun-Times, the following players may get September callups:

Josh Paul, Hee Seop Choi, Dave Kelton, Augie Ojeda and pitchers Juan Cruz and Todd Wellemeyer, and perhaps Class AA pitcher Sergio Mitre.

I think Paul right now would be a better backup catcher than Paul Bako, even though Paul hits righthanded like Damian Miller, and despite Bako's good defense. Bako really can't hit, and Josh Paul can. This was a good pickup made by Jim Hendry.