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Alou's blast quiets Astros
Moises Alou was signing autographs in the dugout before Friday night's game at Minute Maid Park when he heard an Astros fan yelling from the stands.
"I can't believe you're hitting .500 against us," said the fan, exaggerating a bit.
"I can't believe you can't believe it," Alou calmly replied.
A few hours later, Alou's two-run homer in the eighth inning sent the Cubs to a 5-3 victory over Houston, pulling them to within 4½ games of the NL Central-leading Astros.
"This might have been one of the most important games of the year for us," Alou said. "They [the Astros] were starting to pull away. We have a tough week coming up with the Giants after these guys, so it was good to get the first one. It would be nice to win about five or six in a row and get us going again."
The Cubs stunned a sellout crowd of 43,013, with Carlos Zambrano tying the game in the seventh with a two-out, two-run homer off Wade Miller, followed by Alou's game-winner an inning later off Octavio Dotel.
It all came about when Cubs manager Dusty Baker buried the "book," letting Zambrano bat for himself despite trailing 3-1.
"It'd be different if there were one out or no outs," Baker said. "Wherever that book is, I haven't seen it."
After falling behind 0-2, Zambrano crushed a Miller curveball, sending it deep into the right-field bleachers for his second homer of the year.
"My job is pitching," Zambrano said. "Anything else is a gift."
"I've played with good hitting pitchers in the past," Baker said. "Fernando [Valenzuela] would hit, [Steve] Carlton would hit. [Zambrano] was hitting .240 at the time, or whatever it was. He'd seen [Miller] a few times, so I just took a chance. He was swinging as good or better than anybody I could've brought off the bench who hadn't seen [Miller]."
After third baseman Aramiz Ramirez's throwing error led to three unearned runs in the first inning, Zambrano dominated the Astros, allowing only two more hits before being removed for Joe Borowski with one out in the ninth. Borowski recorded the final two outs for his 18th save.
Before the game, Baker refused to call it a make-or-break series.
"It's a very important weekend, but it's not make or break," Baker said. "Last year in August [with San Francisco], we were 11 out in August and we went to the World Series. If we don't have a good weekend, you could make it harder on yourself.
"What you have to do is not get swept and lose any more ground. We have 60 games left. There's a whole lot that can happen."
The Cubs got off to a horrific start when, with runners on first and second and two outs, Lance Berkman hit a routine grounder to third. Ramirez's errant throw to second sailed to the right of Mark Grudzielanek, allowing one run to score and both runners to advance. After an intentional walk to Richard Hidalgo, Brad Ausmus' two-run single made it 3-0.
Zambrano stalked off the mound but refused to cave.
"I was feeling good and had my best stuff," Zambrano said. "When you have it, you have to use it."