Talk of the usual Chicago Cubs fade did not last long. Bucking their sorry history and a sorrier three-game slide against the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend, the Cubs sent a message back to New York that they are not about to roll over this time.
No, this is not 1969 -- when the Cubs let a large August lead slip and finished eight games behind the Mets -- all over again.
"I really don't believe the three games against Cincinnati will be our epitaph," Cubs general manager Ed Lynch said before their 5-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night. "I think there's something more coming. I really believe we're going to Sunday, or even Monday."
Monday would be the day for a one-game playoff should the Cubs and the New York Mets be tied for the National League wild card berth at the end of the regular season Sunday. It would be played at Shea Stadium.
The teams are tied going into today's games because the Mets -- who battled over the weekend to overcome the Cubs -- lost to the Montreal Expos, 5-3. New York took an early 3-0 lead, but Montreal rallied and won when Orlando Cabrera's hard one-hopper bounced off reliever Dennis Cook's backside and went for a two-out, two-run single. The hit broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth.
"We had the luxury of losing one game, but you don't want to do that," said John Olerud, who tied an NL record by reaching base for the 15th consecutive time. After his first-inning walk tied Barry Bonds' record, Olerud grounded out in the third and fell one short of the major league mark Ted Williams set in 1957. "We have some tough games coming up with Atlanta."
After tonight's home finale against the Expos, the Mets finish with a three-game series at Turner Field against the Braves. The Cubs face the Brewers today before heading to Houston for a three-game series.
"It's down to a four-game season," Mets closer John Franco said.
The Cubs didn't even need home run help from Sammy Sosa, whose batting slide hit 0-for-21 with eight strikeouts.
"We can't shake the Mets, and the Mets can't shake us," Cubs first baseman Mark Grace said. "It's a hell of a race, and a lot of fun." With the near-sellout crowd standing and chanting "Sam-my, Sam-my," Sosa was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
"Everybody knows I've been in a tough situation, but I'm going to come back," said Sosa.
Before striking out for the second time, Sosa hit a towering shot off Brewers reliever Al Reyes' changeup in the seventh that just hooked foul down the left-field line.
One fan was so thrilled he ran out to bow at Sosa's feet in right field minutes later. Sosa said the fan told him, "You are the man."
Sosa tried three different bats, but none held any magic on this night.
"I tried to change my luck," he explained. "But I can't find it."
Sosa walked in the second, took third on Gary Gaetti's double and scored on Mickey Morandini's sacrifice fly to shallow center. But he slid right into catcher Bobby Hughes, taking a shin guard to his groin area.
"I was pretty hurt. He hit me in the wrong part of my body," he said.
Scott Servais followed with an RBI single off Pulsipher (3-3) for a 2-0 lead. Glenallen Hill and Morandini had RBI singles in the fourth and Lance Johnson hit a solo homer in the fifth for a 5-0 lead.