One weekend. Two races. Three games. Four teams.
After 65 home run hops, Sammy Sosa's spectacular season has come down to 72 hours. It's winner take all, in both the home run chase and the NL wild-card race, and Sosa is ready.
"We need to go to Houston and remember only one thing: The last three days we're going to find out if we're going to make it," he said.
Sosa broke out of his worst slump of the season Wednesday by hitting two home runs to tie Mark McGwire at 65; the Cubs did not play Thursday. McGwire did not answer back Thursday night, getting only a single in three at-bats in a 6-3 victory by St. Louis over Montreal.
The Cardinals have three games remaining against the Expos, all at Busch Stadium, where McGwire has hit 33 home runs. The Cubs play their three games at the Astros, who gave up three homers to Sosa in a seven-day span last month. Jose Lima (15-8), who gave up two of the home runs, is scheduled to pitch today.
Let McGwire swing for the fences, Sosa said. He's chasing something more important than the homer title.
"When you're trying to go to the playoffs, you're never thinking about home runs," he said.
The Cubs and New York Mets are tied for the lead in the NL wild-card race, but San Francisco won again Thursday, 6-2, over Pittsburgh, and is now just a game back. The Mets are at Atlanta this weekend, while the Giants visit Colorado.
"We have to win three," Mets second baseman Carlos Baerga said. "That's all there is to it."
The Mets are 3-6 against Atlanta this year and were swept in a three-game series at Turner Field in July. The matchups: tonight (7:35, WTBS), Rick Reed vs. rookie Bruce Chen; Saturday, Al Leiter vs. Tom Glavine; Sunday, Armando Reynoso (tentatively) vs. Greg Maddux.
The Giants appear to be in the best position to sweep their season-ending series. They are facing weaker competition and they are hot, winning for the seventh time in eight games Thursday.
"You always want to go into that last series with a chance," Giants right-fielder Joe Carter said. "We have a chance, but we can't afford to lose. Every game is a must-win."
San Francisco is only 3-6 against Colorado, the difference being the Rockies' three-game sweep at Coors Field after the All-Star break.
Sosa has gone on homer binges this season, and he and his teammates are hoping the two against Milwaukee were the start of another frenzy.
"We want to be playing in October, and Sammy's helping us to get to that point," Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's a tremendous thing that he's doing."
In the American League on Thursday: the Boston Red Sox clinched the AL wild card berth with a 9-6 victory over the Baltimore Orioles; the Texas Rangers reduced their magic number for clinching the AL West to one with a 9-3 victory over the Mariners; and the New York Yankees broke the franchise record for victories and tied the AL record of 111 -- set by Cleveland in 1954 -- by beating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 5-2.