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Among the certainties in life, Greg Maddux winning 15 games a season is closing the gap on death and taxes.
Maddux earned his 15th victory Thursday as the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-3. Maddux reached an unprecedented streak of 17 consecutive seasons of 15 or more victories while giving his team a three-game sweep at PNC Park.
"You always have your goals and it's always to win 20," Maddux said. "But one of the goals is to pitch 200 innings. If you can go out there and give your 200 innings, you have to be doing something right.
"Personally, I think getting to 200 innings means more than the wins because you really can't control the wins and losses as much as you can showing up every fifth day."
Maddux is now at 201 2/3 innings. If he reaches a combined 400 innings in 2004-05, he is guaranteed a $9 million option for 2006.
The Cubs, 7-2 on this 12-game trip, took over the lead in the National League wild-card chase when the San Francisco Giants lost to the Houston Astros late Thursday night. The Cubs hold a half-game lead over the Giants with the Astros 2 1/2 behind.
Heading into New York, the Cubs have won 12 of their last 15 games.
"We should have been doing this all year," reliever Kent Mercker said. "Better late than never, I guess."
Maddux said afterward his 15-win seasons streak probably would be surpassed some day, though the only one who came close is Cy Young, who did it from 1891 through 1905. No one is as automatic as Maddux.
"He's an athlete," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "He can run, he can field his position, he can hit and he can pitch, definitely. He has been great for us, and I'm glad to have him."
To put things in perspective, the Cubs didn't have a single pitcher with as many as 15 victories in six of the 11 seasons Maddux pitched in Atlanta after leaving the Cubs as a free agent after the 1992 season.
"He's the same guy, win or lose," catcher Paul Bako said. "He obviously has more than 300 wins, but if he had 20 wins in the big leagues, he has been the same guy for a long time. It just goes to show you what type of person he is."
The Cubs jumped on Pirates emergency starter Nelson Figueroa for four runs in the second inning on Mark Grudzielanek's RBI single, Bako's run-scoring double and Maddux's two-run single past a drawn-in infield.
Maddux later was caught in a rundown between first and second on a double-play grounder by Tom Goodwin and had the wind knocked out of him while making a diving attempt to get back to first base.
"That's Maddux right there," Mercker said. "He could've easily got himself tagged and done nothing . . . that's why he's a Hall of Famer."
Craig Wilson's two-run homer off Maddux cut the Cubs' lead in half in the second and both teams scored in the sixth to make it 5-3.
Mercker bailed Ryan Dempster out of a first-and-third jam in the eighth and Grudzielanek added an insurance run with an RBI single in the ninth.
Maddux potentially has two more starts, including the final game of the regular season against his former team, the Braves, a game the Cubs might need to win to nail down a playoff spot. . But Maddux never focuses on the future.
"I'm going to worry about getting ready for my next start," he said. "I don't think it's too healthy to overlook one team. That's 10 days away or whatever. If you don't win your next start, that game might not even matter."