Series: Game 1 of 3

Chi Cubs leads 1-0 (as of 9/23)

Game 1: Tuesday, September 23
Chi Cubs6Final
Game 2: Wednesday, September 24
Chi Cubs8Final
Game 3: Thursday, September 25
Chi Cubs7Final

Cubs 6

(85-72, 43-36 away)

Reds 0

(67-90, 33-43 home)

    7:10 PM ET, September 23, 2003

    Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, Ohio 

    123456789 R H E
    CHC 000014100 6 8 0
    CIN 000000000 0 2 0

    W: K. Wood (14-11)

    L: S. Randall (2-4)

    Wood strikes out 12 in victory

    CINCINNATI (AP) -- With a whiff of postseason in the air, Kerry Wood dominated.

    Wood struck out 12 and limited the Cincinnati Reds to one infield single in seven innings Tuesday night, leading Chicago to a 6-0 victory and sole possession of first place in the NL Central.

    Houston's 10-3 loss to San Francisco dropped the Astros a game back with five days left in the regular season. The Cubs haven't been alone in first this late in a season since 1989, the last time they won a division title.

    "We're sensing that we've gotten into the position we wanted to be in all year long," Wood said. "We're in it, and now we've got to step up and play good baseball."

    The Cubs, alone atop the division for the first time Sept. 8, took the lead with a big-game performance from the major leagues' strikeout leader, who beat the Reds for the third time this season.

    Thousands of blue-jacketed fans stood and chanted "Let's go Cubs!" as Chicago rallied for four runs in the sixth inning, then let Wood have his way with the majors' most strikeout-prone lineup.

    The Reds couldn't even get a ball out of the infield through the first six innings off Wood (14-11), who didn't come close to giving up a hit. He walked Russell Branyan with one out in the seventh, and Wily Mo Pena broke the no-hit bid with a high-hop infield single.

    "He was nasty, just like when we faced him in Chicago," Pena said. "It was the same thing. He was nasty then, too. I'm just glad I got the base hit."

    Pena smacked a ball off the plate -- a small puff of dirt rose from its edges -- and cleanly beat the throw to first base. The Cubs fans booed, but Wood didn't even flinch, knowing his high pitch count would have prevented him from taking the no-hit bid much longer.

    "I knew I hadn't given up a hit yet, but when I got into a little jam there in the seventh I was trying to stay out of a big inning," Wood said. "I didn't even think twice about the hit. I knew as soon as he made contact it was going to be a hit."

    Jason LaRue then flied out to left -- the only ball the Reds got out of the infield off Wood. The right-hander left after the inning, having thrown 122 pitches.

    Kyle Farnsworth pitched a perfect eighth and Mike Remlinger gave up a single to Sean Casey leading off the ninth, completing a two-hitter. The Reds got only two balls out of the infield as they were shut out for the ninth time.

    Wood has been a steadying force in the Cubs' September surge, allowing only four earned runs in five starts spanning 36 innings. He has fanned 266 batters this season, the third-highest total in Cubs history.

    "He was the Kerry Wood we're used to seeing," said Mark Grudzielanek, who had a two-run double. "He got it going today. It's unfortunate they got a hit like that -- I'd like to see a real hit there. But he threw a great game, and we needed it."

    Aramis Ramirez led the Cubs' offense with a solo homer and RBI single off right-hander Scott Randall (2-4), a nine-year minor-leaguer who made his first big league start and wore No. 65.

    Ramirez led off the fifth with his 27th homer, and the Cubs sent eight batters to the plate for four runs in the sixth to take control. Wood led off with a single and scored on Grudzielanek's two-run double.

    A majority of the crowd of 26,124 came to cheer the Cubs, who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since they went as a wild card in 1998.

    "I thought we were playing at Great American Ball Park," Reds outfielder Ryan Freel said sarcastically. "They had a lot of support. I was surprised that they outnumbered the Reds fans, but what can you do? You can't control who comes in or goes out of the ballpark."

    Hundreds of Cubs fans stood and cheered the players as they left the field after batting practice, bringing a playoff taste to a ballpark that's had a rotten inaugural season.

    The Reds took their 90th loss on Tuesday, only the 14th time that baseball's first pro franchise has reached the mark. A day after he turned down a one-year contract offer that he considered insincere, Reds captain Barry Larkin watched from the bench.

    Game notes

    Wood's 14 victories are a career high. He has struck out 10 batters in a game 37 times in his career. ... Ferguson Jenkins holds the franchise record for strikeouts in a season -- 174 in 1970. Jenkins also struck out 273 in 1969. ... The Reds lead the majors with 1,297 strikeouts. ... Randall was the 16th pitcher to start for the Reds this season, a franchise record. They used 15 starters in 1912 and 1945.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press