Sosa preserves win with sprawling catch

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- This may slow the Chicago Cubs' chase of the
NL wild card: Carlos Zambrano won't start against Pittsburgh again
this season.

Zambrano pitched 7 1-3 shutout innings to outduel Oliver Perez
and beat Pittsburgh for the fifth straight time this season,
carrying the Cubs to a tense, 1-0 victory over the Pirates on
Wednesday night.

Sammy Sosa preserved the Cubs' sixth shutout with a sprawling,
belly-flop catch of Ty Wigginton's bases-loaded, two-out line drive
to right field in the eighth.

"I saw him closing and closing, then I saw it hit his glove,
and I just hoped it stayed in his glove when he hit the ground,"
manager Dusty Baker said. "The guys (in the dugout) jumped for
joy, including myself, just as if we won the World Series. That was
a big play, that was a huge play."

The Cubs made several excellent defensive plays to support
Zambrano, who is the first to beat the Pirates five times in a
season since the Mets' Tom Seaver went 5-1 in 1973. That surprised
Zambrano, who was only 5 when the Hall of Fame right-hander pitched
his final game in 1986 and doesn't remember him.

"I have nothing against the Pirates," Zambrano said. "But I'm
always more comfortable pitching against the division (NL Central)
teams. I tried to do the same things against them that I do against
the other teams."

The Cubs, who remained a half-game behind San Francisco in the
NL wild-card race, are 5-0 against the Pirates over the last 10
days amid a stretch of 11 victories in 14 games. They are 6-2 on a
four-city, 12-game road trip that ends this weekend in New York.

Perez (10-10) retired the first 14 batters, only to lose his
control and walk three in a span of four in the fifth-- including
Zambrano, whose first career bases-loaded walk drove in the only
run. Zambrano is a .209 hitter who homered Friday against the Reds
and has three career homers.

"Everybody knows Zambrano can hit," Perez said. "I didn't
want to throw him a pitch in the zone where he could hit it, and I
walked him."

Nomar Garciaparra, 1-for-2 with two walks in his first start
since injuring a groin Sept. 11, walked to become the Cubs' first
baserunner. Mark Grudzielanek singled into right field for
Chicago's first hit.

Perez still had a chance to get out of the jam with the No. 8
and 9 hitters coming up, only to walk Michael Barrett and Zambrano
before striking out Corey Patterson.

"I was trying to do everything I could to win the game," Perez
said. "Every game you learn something, and this game I learned you
can have too much emotion, to just relax."

Manager Lloyd McClendon said Perez temporarily began trying to
overpower hitters in the fifth, shaking off catcher Jason Kendall
so he could throw fastballs rather than his slider.

"As good as he is, he's still young (21) and he still makes
mistakes," McClendon said of Perez, whose average of 11 strikeouts
per nine innings leads the majors. "But we're talking about
something he did in a 1-0 game. That's how good he is."

The one run was all Zambrano (15-8) needed while giving up six
hits, walking three and striking out seven to win his third in a
row and fourth in five decisions.

Zambrano was 0-2 against the Pirates before this season, then
allowed them only four runs in 35 1-3 innings -- a 1.02 ERA. The
Pirates did not score more than one run in any of the five starts.

The Cubs, 12-5 against the Pirates, had a chance to add on to
the lead when Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez singled to put runners
on first and third with one out in the eighth. But Salomon Torres,
whose wild pitch scored the go-ahead run in Chicago's 5-4,
10-inning win Tuesday, struck out Moises Alou and Sosa.

The Pirates loaded the bases with one out in their half, but
Kent Mercker replaced Zambrano and struck out pinch-hitter Craig
Wilson looking before Sosa's sprawling catch.

Mike Remlinger pitched the ninth inning for his second save in
five opportunities, a night after LaTroy Hawkins blew his eighth
save in 30 chances.
^Notes:@ Patterson struck out four times, with Perez getting him
three times and Torres once. ... Perez struck out eight in seven
innings in his first start since losing 13-5 to the Cubs on Sept.
15, when he allowed three homers in the first. ... Perez has given
up three runs or fewer in 15 of 16 starts at home. He is not
scheduled to pitch there again this season.