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Updated: Thursday, August 21, 2003 3:24 AM EDT
MLB RECAP
Chicago Cubs
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
R H E
6 12 0
Houston Astros
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
R H E
0 4 1
W Prior (12-5)
L Fernandez (1-3)
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CHICAGO CUBS 6, HOUSTON 0
 

HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Mark Prior is doing everything asked of him - and then some.

Prior struck out the first five batters of the game, carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and continued his dominant pitching since an injury in mid-July as the Chicago Cubs posted a 6-0 triumph over the Houston Astros .

The 22-year-old righthander is making a push for Cy Young Award consideration. And his performance since suffering a right shoulder contusion on July 11 has been nothing short of spectacular. In his last four outings, Prior (12-5) is 4-0 with a 0.60 ERA, allowing 18 hits and three walks in 30 innings.

Pulled after allowing four hits and a walk in seven innings in this one, Prior was overpowering from the start. He struck out the side on 11 pitches in the first and got the first two batters in the fourth before Geoff Blum popped up weakly on a 2-2 pitch.

Adam Everett struck out to open the third and, after Aramis Ramirez 's two-run homer in the fourth gave him the lead, Prior cruised. He struck out Lance Berkman , Jeff Bagwell and Jeff Kent twice each and left after throwing 71 of 100 pitches for strikes.

"I was able to spot my fastball," Prior said. "It was the first time since I've come back that I felt like I had an explosive fastball. Now if I can just get my curveball back, then I'll be back."

"He pitched an outstanding game," Houston manager Jimy Williams said. "He was, as they say, dealing from the get-go."

Two of Williams' veteran sluggers offered high praise for the Cubs ace.

"He threw strikes all night," Kent said. "I think he's going to get better command of his pitches someday. Hopefully, that will be after I retire.

"He came right after us tonight," Bagwell said. "He threw a lot of strikes. He didn't throw many changeups, it was fastballs and curveballs, mostly fastballs. He pitched great. He pretty much shut us down."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker was quick to avoid the ace tag, hoping to avoid putting any additional pressure on the phenom.

"In my mind, we have a lot of aces," Baker said. "I'm not putting the (label) on him at his age. Someday he has the chance to be the ace though. He was pretty phenomenal tonight. His control and demeanor on the mound is like a veteran's. We feel pretty good with him on the mound."

Prior felt one of the Cubs' other hard-throwing righthanders is the leader of the staff.

"Woody ( Kerry Wood ) is our guy," he said. "He's the guy we all feed off of. He's our No. 1 as long as he's here."

Kyle Farnsworth worked a hitless eighth and Joe Borowski finished up with a pefect ninth.

Houston starter Jared Fernandez (1-3) was tagged for four runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings. The knuckleballer walked one and struck out three.

The win pulled Chicago into a second-place tie in the National League Central, one-half game behind the front-running Astros. The Cubs lead the season series, 9-6.

After Prior breezed through the first three innings, newly acquired Tony Womack blooped a single to open the fourth. One out later, he was caught stealing, but Moises Alou walked and Ramirez ripped Fernandez's next offering over the left-center wall for his 18th homer.

"I've faced him before," Ramirez said. "All he throws is the knuckleball. You just have to stay back, wait on it and hit it."

Womack started the sixth with an infield hit and Sammy Sosa singled to put runners on the corners. Fernandez uncorked a wild pitch to plate Womack but struck out Alou, who was ejected for arguing.

Ricky Stone replaced Fernandez and walked Ramirez. Randall Simon , another new acquisition for Baker's squad, hit an 0-1 pitch over the right field wall for his 11th homer.

Houston wasted a leadoff double in the sixth and left the bases loaded in the seventh.

Tom Goodwin , who replaced the ejected Alou, singled with one out in the eighth for his 1,000th career hit.

"Prior was awesome," Baker said. "He came out ready from the opening pitch. He was throwing 94-96 (miles per hour) at the start, and he's usually 91-93 at the start. I knew he was on. He located his fastball and got ahead in the count."


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