Whether the Cubs can overcome Houston and win the National League Central Division, one thing seems all but certain as the season rolls to the finish line.
They haven't done anything the easy way through the first 151 games and nothing is about to change for the final 11 games.
The Cubs held on for a 3-2 victory over the New York Mets Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, escaping a ninth-inning rally as a perspiring crowd of 39,532 let out a collective sigh of relief.
"Boy," manager Dusty Baker said, "we make it exciting, don't we?"
Would Cubs fans have it any other way?
Mark Prior allowed two runs and struck out 13 in 82/3 innings to win for the eighth time in his last nine starts, while Sammy Sosa homered and drove in all three runs. Joe Borowski got Roger Cedeno to look at strike three with the tying run on second to post his 30th save.
"Last year you got to the point where I don't think the team could have gotten any lower," Borowski said. "It wasn't even fun to come to the park because things were so dismal. This year you come to the park and know you're in a pennant race and you believe you're going to win every game you play."
Houston beat Colorado 14-4 at Coors Field, leaving the Cubs 1½ games behind the Astros in the Central. Kerry Wood, who's 3-1 with a 2.03 earned-run average in six career starts against the Mets, faces left-hander Al Leiter on Wednesday in the final game of the homestand.
The sellout crowd helped the Cubs establish a new attendance record at Wrigley Field with a total of 2,844,887 for the season. The old record of 2,813,854 was set in 1999, when the Cubs finished 67-95 and 30 games out of first place.
Prior (16-6) led 3-1 in the ninth before Matt Watson's RBI double led to his removal after 124 pitches.
"I wanted to stay out there and felt like I had good stuff," Prior said. "But I think Dusty made the right call. It was time for me to turn the ball over to Joe. That's the way the job is and he has done great all year."
New York gave a brilliant imitation of the 1962 Mets in the first inning, booting the ball around for the first three batters. Kenny Lofton reached on an error by second baseman Danny Garcia and hustled into second when the ball scooted into short-right field. First baseman Jason Phillips bungled Mark Grudzielanek's bunt attempt for error No. 2, leaving runners on the corners with no outs.
Sosa hit a perfect double play grounder to short, but Phillips couldn't handle the relay from Garcia, allowing Sosa to get credit for the RBI. The Mets tied it in the third on Cedeno's leadoff homer, but Sosa's two-run, center-field blast in the third off rookie Jae Weong Seo (8-12) put the Cubs back on top.
Sosa has nine straight seasons of 35 or more home runs and needs five more to become the first National League player with six straight 40-homer seasons. He tied Jimmie Foxx for 11th place on the all-time home run list with the 534th of his career, two shy of Mickey Mantle's 536 home runs.
"That's nice," Sosa said. "But right now I only have one thing in mindwinning every day and trying to win the division."
Cubs pitchers reached the 1,300 mark in strikeouts when Prior made Jorge Velandia his 10th victim, making this the fourth team in major-league history to reach that plateau. The 2001 Cubs hold the all-time record with 1,344 strikeouts, followed by the 2002 Cubs (1,333) and the 2002 Diamondbacks (1,303).
Cubs 3, Mets 2