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Ramirez also hit 3 vs. Philly in July

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The Cubs were hardly concerned when Kerry Wood
let the lead slip away in one wild inning.

Why fret when Aramis Ramirez was going to bat again?

The third baseman homered three times for all of Chicago's runs
Thursday, and the Cubs kept pace in the playoff race with a 5-4
victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Without Ramirez, Chicago would have lost precious ground in the
wild-card chase. The homer binge kept the Cubs a half-game back of
San Francisco and revived them at the start of their final
regular-season road trip -- four cities, 12 games.

"One-man wrecking crew," Reds starter Josh Hancock marveled.
"If I had the kitchen sink in my back pocket, I would have thrown
it up there and he probably would have hit it."

That's how helpless he made them feel.

Ramirez hit a two-run homer and a solo shot off Hancock, then
put the Cubs ahead in the seventh with a two-out, two-run drive off
Ryan Wagner (3-2) for his second three-homer game of the season.
Ramirez also hit three against Philadelphia on July 30.

He is the first player to have two three-homer games in a season
since 2001, when Sammy Sosa had three. Barry Bonds, Jeromy Burnitz
and Carlos Delgado also did it twice that year.

Twelve major leaguers have hit three homers in a game this
season.

"We know what he can do," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We
got six hits and he got four of them, drove in all the runs. This
is what you need. You need somebody like that -- or somebodies -- in
different games to put the whole team on his back and carry it,
which he did."

He had no inkling it was going to be like this.

Ramirez got started with a drive into the first row of seats in
left field in the first inning. He was just getting warmed up.

His next at-bat produced an even longer drive, a double that
one-hopped the wall in center in the third inning. He followed with
a solo shot off Hancock in the fifth for a 3-1 lead.

"After you hit the first one, it's over and you've got to come
up and do it again," Ramirez said. "The pitchers are going to
make mistakes and when they do, you've got to hit it. That's what I
did."

When Wood (8-7) let the lead slip away with a wild fifth inning
-- two walks, a wild pitch, three Reds runs -- he figured somebody
would bail him out.

"I didn't sense that anybody was too worried about it," said
Wood, who won for the first time since Aug. 14. "We didn't tighten
up in the dugout or on the field."

Why should they? Ramirez wasn't done.

His seventh-inning homer to center off Wagner's slider put the
Cubs ahead again. Ramirez got a chance to tie the big league record
of four in the ninth inning, but fouled back a down-the-middle
pitch from Joe Valentine before flying out routinely to right
field.

"I never think about hitting four," Ramirez said. "There were
men on first and second, it was a one-run game, and I'm thinking
about getting a base hit."

Overall, Ramirez was 4-for-5 with the double, tying the club
record with 14 total bases. The three-homer binge gave the Cubs a
franchise-record 213 this season, topping the 1998 club.

Ramirez also matched Ron Santo's club record for homers by a
third baseman with 33.

"Unbelievable," Wood said. "He put on a display tonight."

Chicago needed everything Ramirez could muster to avoid a
deflating loss.

Wood gave up five hits and four runs in seven innings, striking
out nine. Kent Mercker pitched the eighth, and LaTroy Hawkins
finished for his 22nd save in 28 chances.

On this night, Ramirez -- one of four Cubs to reach the 30-homer
mark -- carried a team that is overly reliant on the big swing.

The Cubs lead the NL in homers, the perfect summary of their
offense. They have trouble scratching out runs to win the close
ones -- Chicago is only 16-24 in one-run games.

Moises Alou (35), Sosa (31) and Derrek Lee (30) also have
reached the 30-homer plateau, only the 10th time in major league
history that a team has had four players at the mark.

Sosa batted sixth Thursday and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and
a double-play grounder. He homered twice Wednesday, including a
grand slam.

While Sosa struggled, Ramirez hit the ball hard in his first
four at-bats. Two of his homers followed Reds errors -- Cincinnati
had three overall for the second straight game.

Game notes
It was the fifth time that Sosa has batted so low in the
order this season. Baker plans to move him back up when he puts
together a few good games in a row. ... Ramirez has 11 career
multihomer games, four this season. ... The Reds' pitching staff
has given up a team-record 217 homers this season. ... Cincinnati
OF Adam Dunn struck out once, raising his club-record total to 172.
The major league record is 189 strikeouts by Bobby Bonds of the
Giants in 1970.