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Cubs' Wood tosses four-hit shutout

CHICAGO (AP) -- Kerry Wood was hurting before the game, his back
so stiff Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker wasn't sure if he'd be
able to pitch.

Oh, Wood pitched all right. And it was a gem.

Wood pitched a four-hitter for his fourth complete game of the
year, striking out 11 as the Cubs swept the New York Mets with a
2-0 victory Wednesday.

"He had it going on from the opening pitch," Baker said. "I
guess he's doing fine now."

Doug Glanville and Aramis Ramirez hit solo homers for the Cubs,
who improved to 13-4 in September and guaranteed themselves a
winning season -- just their seventh in 31 years. It's quite a
turnaround from last season, when the Cubs lost 95 games and got
not one, but two managers fired.

But the Cubs have a new attitude under Baker. Not only are they
winning, but they're in contention for the NL Central title. They
are just a half-game behind first-place Houston, which lost at
Colorado 7-5 on Wednesday night.

"We need a little help from them, but we can't afford to
slip," Wood said. "We need to win every game to give ourselves a
chance. We've been doing that. We've been playing good baseball and
right now it's a lot of fun in the clubhouse and on the field.

"Hopefully we can ride it out."

They can if they keep getting outings like Wood's. Wood has been
bothered by a stiff back lately, and he told Baker about 10 minutes
before the game that it was hurting again.

"I really didn't know until after I threw in the bullpen how it
was going to turn out," Wood said. "It was a little stiff, but as
the game went on, it loosened up."

He won his 13th game, matching his total from 1998, when he won
NL Rookie of the Year honors.

Wood (13-11) retired 12 in a row at one point, including five
straight strikeouts. The Mets put just one runner on base in the
last six innings, a two-out single by Vance Wilson in the seventh.

But Wilson couldn't get anywhere, as Wood struck out Marco
Scutaro.

"He was very good today," Mets shortstop Joe McEwing said.
"When he's got a 95, 96, 97 mph fastball and he can throw you
breaking balls for strikes, you're going to be off-balance."

Wood walked one and plunked his 21st batter of the year, hitting
Roger Cedeno in the first inning. That's the most hit batters since
Tom Murphy of the California Angels also plunked 21 in 1969.

Baker was going to go to closer Joe Borowski for the ninth
inning, and even sent a pinch-hitter out in the bottom of the
eighth. But as the umpire was asking the manager about the switch,
Wood told Baker he wanted to hit.

So Baker sent Wood to the plate, and let him pitch the ninth.

"I knew in my mind if he got in any kind of trouble he was
gone," Baker said. "But he wanted it. If a guy wants it and he
deserves it, I'm willing to give it to him."

Wood pitched a perfect ninth, handing the Mets their 12th loss
in the last 13 games. In their last six series, all against playoff
contenders, the Mets are 4-15.

The sweep was Chicago's first of the Mets since taking a
four-game series at Wrigley Field in August 1992.

"Obviously we ran into some pretty good pitching," Mets
manager Art Howe said. "Maybe we've been running into it almost
every day. That's the way it looks."

Al Leiter (14-9) was no slouch, retiring his last 13 batters and
allowing just four hits and a walk in seven innings. That's an
outing that would almost guarantee a victory any other day.

But not against Wood. Leiter gave up leadoff homers to Glanville
and Ramirez in the first two innings, and that was all the Cubs
needed.

"To go down 2-0 in two innings makes (Wood) that much more
relaxed in making his pitches," Leiter said. "In the end, even
though you know you did a pretty good job, or did your job, it's
still about winning the game."

Game notes
C Josh Paul, who spent the first five years of his career
with the White Sox, made his first start as a Cub. ... LHP John
Franco turned 43 on Wednesday and also was honored as the Mets'
winner of the Roberto Clemente Award. ... The last NL pitcher to
hit more than 20 batters in a season was Jake Weimer of Cincinnati,
who hit 23 in 1907.