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DUO PLAYS OVER-THE-WALL BALL AGAIN

Whatever you can do, I can do better.

Sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa played that game again Friday in their pursuit for home run glory.

Sosa hit major league-leading 57th homer Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field in an 8-6 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But McGwire did that one better at night in Milwaukee's County Stadium, smacking Nos. 53 and 54 in a 5-4, 11-inning loss to the Brewers.

Sosa's two-run, first-inning homer was his 14th in 19 games. He also struck out twice -- leaving the bases loaded in the fifth -- and flied out twice.

He's still well ahead of his 66-homer pace last year, when he hit No. 57 in the Cubs' 141st game. Friday's homer came in Chicago's 133rd game and moved Sosa within 13 of McGwire's record of 70 with 29 games remaining.

"I'm not thinking about the home run race. No matter how many I'm ahead. I'm just not concerned about it," Sosa said.

"I'm not giving up and saying, 'That's it,' " Sosa said following the Cubs' 25th loss in 32 games since Aug. 1. "It's a situation nobody wants to be in. But you got to take it like a man. Because the team is losing doesn't mean I have to struggle."

Sosa wasn't the only one to show his power at Wrigley. The Dodgers hit three homers in winning for the 10th time in 14 games.

Todd Hundley's sixth-inning home run gave the Dodgers a 6-5 lead, and Mark Grudzielanek and Gary Sheffield also connected for Los Angeles.

In Milwaukee, Mark Loretta was hit by a Juan Acevedo pitch with the bases loaded and none out in the bottom of the 11th inning to win the game for the Brewers.

"I don't play games for (homers), and I never will," McGwire said. "We should have won, and we didn't, and that's the real story."

St. Louis blew a 4-1 lead in the eighth inning. Closer Ricky Bottalico allowed four hits and two runs in the ninth inning to blow the save and tie the game at 4-4.

Braves, Astros increase leads

Suddenly, the Eastern and Central Division leaders have some breathing room.

The Atlanta Braves increased their lead in the East to 3 1/2 games thanks to a 7-3 victory over the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks, combined with the second-place New York Mets' 5-2 home loss to the Colorado Rockies in 10 innings.

The Houston Astros have a 2 1/2 -game lead over the second-place Cincinnati Reds in the Central after the Astros stomped the Montreal Expos, 8-1, at Olympic Stadium and the Reds fell, 10-2, in Philadelphia. The Mets lead the Reds by 4 1/2 games in the wild-card race.

* In Atlanta, Kevin Millwood (15-7) allowed only one hit through seven innings and had a two-run single, Andruw Jones homered and the Braves won for the 13th time in 14 games.

* In Montreal, Houston's Ken Caminiti homered twice and drove in six runs and Mike Hampton pitched seven strong innings. Hampton (18-3) won his ninth straight decision to join teammate Jose Lima as the only 18-game winners in the NL.

* In New York, Colorado's Jeff Barry hit a three-run double in the 10th inning off former Colorado reliever Chuck McElroy. New York had 10 hits and four walks but could manage only two runs, hitting into three double plays and stranding nine runners.

* In Philadelphia, Curt Schilling pitched five strong innings in his first start in nearly a month as the Phillies stopped their seven-game losing streak. Schilling (15-5), making his first start since Aug. 7, allowed one run and three hits, struck out four and walked two. He threw 75 pitches in his return from the disabled list.

Around the league

Jeff Kent hit his eighth career grand slam as the Giants stretched their winning streak to seven games by beating the Pirates, 12-2. Since coming off the disabled list, Kent has hit safely in 12 of 13 games, going 20 for 55 (.364) with five home runs and 20 RBIs. He was out from Aug. 3-21 with inflammation in his left foot. The Giants moved with 5 1/2 games of division-leading Arizona in the West. . . . Tony Gwynn hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning as the Padres beat the Marlins, 6-3.

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