Rusch's 'best start' clicks

If the Cubs could ever make a case for cloning, now would be the perfect time.

What they'd really like is to have the clone of left-hander Glendon Rusch pitch the next two nights against the Houston Astros.

And then they'd like the clone of the Astros as their home opponent for the rest of the season.

Of course, so would every other team in the National League, because after Monday night's 4-1 loss at Wrigley Field, the Astros are a major league-worst 2-20 on the road.

They are also 0-10 with one homer and 12 RBIs against left-handed starters on the road, which includes Rusch's efficient dispatching witnessed by a bundled-up crowd of 38,232.

Sadly, Rusch is the Cubs' only left-handed starter, but he made the most of it, going eight innings for his third victory. Closer Ryan Dempster pitched a perfect ninth.

"His best start and his longest start," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of Rusch, a converted reliever. "Great job, great tempo. He threw a heck of a ballgame."

It was a ballgame the Cubs needed if they hope to get back into the Central Division race. They are tied for second with Milwaukee, seven games behind St. Louis.

It was the team's second straight victory, and it has two more games against Houston and then four against Colorado, which has a 3-18 road record.

"I've said all along over this last stretch where we haven't played that well that we were in every ballgame," Rusch said. "We were just not jumping over the hump.

"The last couple of games have been good, tight ballgames. We've got a couple of clutch hits and that's how good teams win."

Monday night's clutch hits, both homers, came from Corey Patterson and Jeromy Burnitz, who also had an adventurous night in the outfield. In the top of the second inning, they collided while chasing a fly ball in right-center. Patterson crumpled to the ground, Burnitz caught the ball.

"At the last minute I called it, but it was too late," Patterson said. "I got the worst end of it. I'll probably be sore [Tuesday]."

"I couldn't get off it," Burnitz said. "Fortunately, neither one of us went down. He's a good ballplayer. We need him."

The Cubs need every bat they can get, especially when they face Roger Clemens on Tuesday night.

What a difference that will be from the last two games, when the Cubs faced pitchers making their major-league debuts.

Sunday it was the White Sox's Brandon McCarthy, Monday it was Houston's Wandy Rodriguez.

The Cubs scored in the first inning when Jerry Hairston and Neifi Perez singled and Derrek Lee lofted a sacrifice fly.

After Brad Ausmus' first homer of the season tied it 1-1, Patterson stroked his ninth homer of the season in the fifth inning, and the Cubs chased Rodriguez in the sixth with a pair of runs on Burnitz's eighth homer.

The runs were enough for Rusch, who scattered five hits and allowed one Houston runner as far as second base after the second inning.

The Cubs have won three of his four starts, even though his record in those games is 1-1.

"I'd like to start, obviously, but I didn't mind doing [both like] I did last year," Rusch said.

"However you do it to help the team on a championship ballclub, that's what you do."

Could he maybe clone himself?