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MCGWIRE'S SLAM IGNITES CARDINALS

Mark McGwire's grand slam was the first of three consecutive home runs for St. Louis in a nine-run fourth inning as the Cardinals spoiled Jose Lima's bid for a 21st victory with an 11-8 win over the Houston Astros on Friday night.

McGwire's towering shot to left-center was his 56th of the season and 513th of his career, moving him past Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews into 11th place on the career list.

Thomas Howard homered on the next pitch after McGwire's blast, and Fernando Tatis followed with his 29th to knock out Lima (20-8).

It was the first time in 35 years and the fourth time ever the Cardinals hit three consecutive homers. The last time it happened was July 19, 1964, against the Mets, when Ken Boyer started the barrage with a grand slam and Bill White and Tim McCarver followed with homers.

Jeff Bagwell hit his 41st homer for Houston, which has lost two straight after winning 12 in a row. The Astros kept a 3 1/2 -game lead in the NL Central over the Cincinnati Reds.

Chipper's HR lifts Braves

ATLANTA -- With the game on the line, Chipper Jones welcomes the challenge.

Jones hit a solo home run in the 10th inning Friday night to give the Atlanta Braves a 6-5 win over the Montreal Expos, expanding their NL East lead to two games over New York.

With one out in the 10th, Jones hit a 1-1 pitch from Steve Kline (6-4) over the center-field fence for his 41st homer. The Braves had lost four of five.

"Those are situations you like to be in -- you like to win it with one swing of the bat," said Jones, Atlanta's No. 3 hitter. "I hit in the middle of the lineup. I'm supposed to get those hits, drive in runs, hit home runs," he said. "You can't be afraid to fail."

Montreal third baseman Michael Barrett, whose error led to two unearned runs earlier in the game, sent the contest into extra innings with his two-out solo homer in the ninth inning off John Rocker. It was Rocker's seventh blown save in 40 chances.

Reds' loss proves costly

PITTSBURGH -- The Cincinnati Reds picked a bad time to start losing in the NL Central race -- down the stretch in September, against opponents with losing records.

Todd Ritchie (13-9), a minor league free agent last winter who never started in the majors until this season, held suddenly slumping Cincinnati to one run over eight innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates dealt the Reds a costly 3-1 loss Friday night.

The Reds remained three games behind New York in the wild-card race.

Ron Villone's wildness and his own error on Abraham Nunez's suicide squeeze bunt helped the Pirates score three runs on only one hit in the fourth and send the Reds to their third loss in four games.

Around the horn

For the second day in a row, Sammy Sosa got a game-winning RBI instead of No. 60. His sacrifice fly to left field gave the Cubs a 6-5 victory over the Brewers in 10 innings. Sosa, who finished 0 for 3, has gone seven games without a home run, his longest power outage since a seven-game stretch from July 5-11. . . . Rookie Randy Wolf snapped an eight-game losing streak and struck out a career-high 11 as the Phillies beat the Mets, 8-5. Mets catcher Mike Piazza bruised his left hand when he was struck by a foul tip from leadoff hitter Doug Glanville. X-rays were negative and Piazza is day-to-day. . . . Dante Bichette hit his seventh career grand slam and a three-run homer for a career high seven RBIs, and Todd Helton hit two homers as the Rockies outslugged the Dodgers, 18-10. . . . Kevin Orie had a homer and three RBIs as the Marlins snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 10-6 win over the Diamondbacks, despite a homer by Arizona's Jay Bell. . . . Rich Aurilia and Jeff Kent each hit two-run homers to lift the Giants over the Padres, 4-2, for their sixth straight victory. The Giants have won 22 of 28 and pulled within six games of Arizona in the NL West.

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