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Updated: Friday, September 26, 2003 1:46 AM EDT
Chicago Cubs
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Cincinnati Reds
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W Van Poppel (2-1)
L Zambrano (13-11)
S Reitsma (0)
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CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- The Chicago Cubs should have known this was not going to be easy.

Sean Casey 's two-run homer highlighted a six-run sixth inning as the Cincinnati Reds rallied for a 9-7 victory over the Cubs, who are fighting for the National League Central Division title.

Seeking just their fourth playoff appearance since 1945 and first division title since 1989, the Cubs fell into a first-place tie with Houston in the Central.

The Cubs, who close the regular season at home with three games against Pittsburgh, built a 3-0 lead after 2 1/2 innings on a solo homer by Kenny Lofton and a two-run shot by Sammy Sosa .

"We're back to square one," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We're glad to be going home to the friendly confines. We have to go home and win. That's what a pennant race is all about. We knew it would go down to the wire."

"It's a test for us," Lofton said. "It is what is involved in a pennant race and World Series. Last year (in San Francisco) we didn't have to wait for the last three games. We had the lead and had to hold it. It was the same but felt a little different at the same time."

Sosa also hit a solo shot in the eighth and moved past Mickey Mantle into 10th place on the all-time list with 538 career homers. Sosa also became the first place in NL history to reach 100 RBI in nine straight seasons.

"Nobody is going to give us anything," Sosa said. "We played a good game and they got the big hits."

But the Reds chipped away and took advantage of tiring Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano (13-11) in the sixth to turn a 4-2 deficit into a four-run lead.

Zambrano left with the bases loaded and none out and Stephen Smitherman , Ryan Freel , Ray Olmedo , D'Angelo Jimenez and Casey all produced runs against the Cubs' bullpen.

Todd Van Poppel (2-1) battled through six innings to get his second straight win. The righthander allowed four runs and six hits, striking out four without a walk.

Phil Norton and John Riedling combined to give up two runs in two innings and Chris Reitsma worked a around a leadoff homer in the ninth for his 12th save.

Zambrano ran into immediate trouble in the bottom of the sixth, surrendering singles to Wily Mo Pena , Dernell Stenson and Jason LaRue to load the bases with none out.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker went to his bullpen, something Zambrano was hoping he wouldn't do.

"With three men out there, I wanted to stay out there," Zambrano said. "I was responsible. I didn't say anything to Dusty. He is the manager."

Batting for Van Poppel, Smitherman delivered an RBI single to pull the Reds within 4-3. Freel followed with a sacrifice fly to tie.

Lefthander Mark Guthrie relieved and Olmedo greeted him with an RBI double just inside the third base bag. After Jimenez lofted a sacrifice fly, Casey deposited an 0-1 pitch over the right-center field wall, giving the Reds an 8-4 lead.

"It's nice to hit a home run in that kind of game," Casey said. "It was a game they needed and it was a great spot for me to do it. I knew the fans were with us. When I hit it, I heard them roar."

In the seventh, the Cubs loaded the bases with none out. But Norton induced a double play grounder from Lofton that plated one run.

"We had the bases loaded in the seventh and Kenny (Lofton) hit a bullet," Baker said. "If we hit it anywhere else, we have a big inning."

Sosa started the eighth by hitting his 39th homer of the season but Casey answered with a run-scoring single in the bottom of the inning to make it 9-6.

Sosa's 63 career multi-homer games ties him with Hall of Famer Willie Mays for fourth place all time.

Randall Simon led off the ninth with his 16th homer. After Sosa reached on an error with two outs, Reitsma got Moises Alou on a hard liner to left to end it.

Looking to sweep the three-game series, the Cubs broke on top with one out in the third on Lofton's 12th homer. Mark Grudzielanek singled and Sosa followed with his homer to move past Mantle and give the Cubs a 3-0 lead.

Olmedo delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the inning and Stenson plated a run with a base hit in the fourth, pulling the Reds within 3-2.

Grudzielanek's RBI double in the fifth gave the Cubs a 4-2 lead.

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