Series: Game 2 of 3

Chi Cubs leads 2-0 (as of 4/9)

Game 1: Monday, April 7
Chi Cubs
Game 1: Tuesday, April 8
Chi Cubs6
Game 2: Wednesday, April 9
Chi Cubs3
Game 3: Thursday, April 10
Chi Cubs1

Expos 0

(4-4, 4-4 away)

Cubs 3

(5-3, 2-0 home)

    2:20 PM ET, April 9, 2003

    Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois 

    123456789 R H E
    MON 000000000 0 4 0
    CHC 02000001 - 3 7 0

    W: M. Prior (2-0)

    L: J. Vazquez (1-1)

    Prior allows just four hits in first career shutout

    CHICAGO (AP) -- Now this is Mark Prior's idea of fun.

    Mark Prior

    Mark Prior might emerge as the best pitcher in the game.

    Matching pitch for pitch, strikeout for strikeout, he and Javier Vazquez got into a good, old-fashioned pitcher's duel Wednesday afternoon. Only one bad pitch separated them, but that was all Prior needed to get his first major league shutout.

    "It was a lot of fun,'' Prior said after the Chicago Cubs' 3-0 victory over the Montreal Expos. "All around, it was a good day.''

    Even the Expos agreed.

    "This is baseball at its best: Playing at Wrigley Field, two good pitchers on the mound throwing toe-to-toe,'' Expos catcher Michael Barrett said. "Unfortunately we were at the losing end, but it was still just a great game to be a part of.''

    That it was.

    Prior and Vazquez combined for 26 strikeouts while walking none.

    Prior (2-0) scattered four hits and struck out 12 for the second complete game of his young career, retiring 16 straight at one point. His only extra-base hit was a double by Orlando Cabrera in the seventh.

    Vazquez (1-1) struck out a career-high 14 in seven innings, fanning two in every inning but the fifth. He scattered five hits over seven innings.

    But one of those hits was a first-pitch, two-run homer by Damian Miller, and that was enough to decide the game. Miller also had a single and a double, finishing the day 3-for-3.

    "I made a mistake to Damian Miller, and that was probably the game right there because Prior was lights out today,'' Vazquez said. "He controlled the whole game.''

    Prior even added an insurance run in the eighth, faking a bunt and then swinging away for an RBI single.

    "Mark certainly pitched like a champion today,'' Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "That was one of the best performances by a young man I've ever seen.''

    Great things have been expected of Prior since the Cubs picked him second overall in the 2001 draft. He made just nine starts in the minors, and went 6-6 with 147 strikeouts and a 3.32 ERA after being called up in May.

    On Wednesday, he was practically untouchable. He set the tone with his first batter, needing only three pitches to strike out Endy Chavez. He gave up a single to left to Henry Mateo, then shut the Expos down tight.

    He was perfect through the next 5 1/3 innings, retiring 16 straight. Prior struck out seven during that stretch, and the Expos could get only two balls out of the infield. The closest they came to a hit was Barrett's chopper down the third base line in the third.

    But umpires ruled that the ball had bounced foul before it reached third base, and Barrett went back to the plate. He wound up hitting a fly ball to center.

    "It's kind of silly to think a 22-year-old can do what he did today,'' Miller said. "It's unheard of. But we'll definitely take him on our team.''

    The Expos finally got another hit off of Prior in the sixth, when Chavez singled through the hole at short with two outs.

    Prior allowed only two more hits the rest of the way, and finished the day by striking out Jeff Liefer with his 113th pitch. The crowd was chanting ``Prior! Prior!'' with Liefer at the plate.

    "The crowd was awesome. They helped out big-time at the end,'' Prior said. "That's why it's such a blast to play here.''

    Prior now has double-digit strikeouts in seven of his 21 major league starts.

    "How fun was that?'' Miller asked. "It's a pretty impressive outing.''

    It had to be with the way Vazquez was pitching. Vazquez retired five of his first seven batters, striking out four of them. His only trouble came with two outs in the second, when Miller sent the first pitch he saw soaring out to left field.

    It looked as if the 12-mph wind might keep it in the park, but the ball got enough carry and dropped just beyond the fence for a two-run homer.

    It was the first home run allowed by an Expos starter this year, and only the third overall.

    After the second inning, the Cubs managed only two more hits off Vazquez and never threatened to score.

    "He pitched a perfect game in my book except for one pitch,'' Barrett said. "Unfortunately, that's all they needed.''

    Game notes

    Prior beat the Colorado Rockies 4-1 on Aug. 4, 2002, for his only other complete game. ... Cubs SS Alex Gonzalez struck out four times, snapping his seven-game hitting streak. ... There were a total of 27 strikeouts in the game, an Expos record, and no walks.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press