<
>

Prior gets first win since June 25

DENVER (AP) -- Mark Prior is back on track, and the Chicago Cubs
are rolling at exactly the right time.

Prior pitched six scoreless innings for his first win in more
than a month, and the Cubs won their fourth straight by completing
a three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies with a 5-1 victory
Thursday.

"It just goes to show you how strong our starting rotation
is," said catcher Paul Bako, who had a two-run single. "We're
just happy to have everybody healthy. He looked great. I think he's
had great stuff since he's come back."

Prior missed the first two months of the season with right
Achilles' tendinitis.

Derrek Lee and Corey Patterson each hit a solo home run for the
Cubs, who moved a season-high 12 games over .500 (60-48) and swept
Colorado at Coors Field for the first time. It was the Cubs' first
sweep against the Rockies in Denver in 10 years -- since they took
three straight July 18-20, 1994, at Mile High Stadium.

"It's a tough feat to sweep them here," Chicago manager Dusty
Baker said. "We got some key hits and played a great series. ...
It starts at one (win) and then it goes from there. We've got to
keep rolling."

Prior (3-2) got his first victory since beating the White Sox
7-4 on June 25, a span of six starts. Glendon Rusch pitched 2 1-3
solid innings for his first save. He allowed a two-out triple in
the ninth by pinch-hitter Kit Pellow, who scored when Sammy Sosa
bobbled the ball in right for an error.

Rusch even added a two-out RBI double in the ninth.

Lee connected for his 22nd homer against Jason Jennings (10-9)
with two outs in the second. Patterson homered in the sixth, his
12th of the year.

The Cubs are surging, and now head to San Francisco for Baker's
second trip back to the Bay Area to face his former team. Fans were
anticipating a matchup on Saturday between Greg Maddux, who is
going for his 300th win, against Giants ace Jason Schmidt, who's
trying for career victory No. 100. But the Giants announced late
Thursday that Schmidt would be pushed up to Friday and not face his
former Atlanta teammate.

San Francisco's pitcher for Saturday was undecided.

Baker has been emphasizing the importance of this stretch
against other playoff contenders. Chicago, playing 12 straight
games against the NL West, has won eight of 10 and improved to 13-8
since the All-Star break.

"I was looking forward to them coming to town. Now I'm looking
forward to them leaving," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.
"Prior was able to make pitches when he had to. He broke a couple
bats, he pitched away from the barrel, he pitched away from the
middle of the plate."

Prior allowed six hits, struck out eight and walked two. He was
done after throwing a season-high 108 pitches.

He didn't let a Colorado baserunner reach third until the sixth,
when Todd Helton walked and advanced on Matt Holliday's single. But
Prior then struck out Jeromy Burnitz swinging for the third
straight time. Baker appreciated how Prior helped save the bullpen
for the weekend.

Prior is 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA in four career starts against
Colorado.

"I felt comfortable from the get-go," Prior said. "I made
some pitches when I had to. I was more relaxed in pressure
situations than I have been. I didn't try to press."

Jennings pitched well for much of the game, retiring eight
straight during one stretch, but got into trouble in the seventh.
The right-hander was tagged for four straight singles, including
Bako's two-run single with the bases loaded that made it 4-0.

Jennings allowed four runs on seven hits in seven innings,
struck out four and walked three. He had won his last two starts --
both victories over Arizona when ace Randy Johnson started.

Nomar Garciaparra is 4-for-18 with three RBI in his first four
games with the Cubs after being traded from the Boston Red Sox on
Saturday. But he made several nice plays at shortstop despite being
clobbered a few times by the Rockies' aggressive baserunning.

The Rockies blew three-run leads in the first two games of the
series, but struggled to get anything going offensively in the
finale.

Game notes
Prior has allowed two or fewer walks in seven of his 11
starts this season. Chicago is 7-4 in his starts. ... The Cubs won
the season series 5-1. ... Burnitz was 0-for-11 with four
strikeouts in the series. He started at all three outfield
positions. ... The Cubs are the second team to sweep the Rockies at
Coors Field this year. Milwaukee did it June 29-July 1. ...
Colorado fell to 7-17 against the NL Central, including 2-10 at
home.