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Cubs can't get past Braves in finale
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07/13/2003 11:26 PM ET 
Cubs can't get past Braves in finale
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com

Hee Seop Choi is out as Mark DeRosa throws to first to force out Alex Gonzalez. (Aynsley Floyd/AP)
CHICAGO -- The All-Star break couldn't come at a better time for the Chicago Cubs.

Robert Fick, Vinny Castilla and Rafael Furcal each drove in two runs to power the Atlanta Braves to a 7-2 victory over the Cubs on Sunday night.

"That's not the way I envisioned ending the first half," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Now we've got a few days off and we can come back and forget about the end of it and start the second half."

Baker won't get a break. He will be managing the National League team in Tuesday's All-Star Game just a few miles away at U.S. Cellular Field. The Cubs players get a few days of R&R.

"Let's hope everybody gets some rest and regroups and figures out how you can play better individually and as a team to make us better," Baker said. "The break is as much a mental break as a physical break. When you're brushing your teeth or brushing your hair or whatever you're doing, sooner or later you have to look and say, 'What could I have done to make this better?'

"Our guys have been busting. My bullpen is spent," he said. "You don't see a lack of effort but sometimes you see a lack of results."

The Cubs ended the homestand 4-6 and enter the All-Star break at 47-47, three games behind Houston in the Central Division. A year ago, the Cubs were 41-53 after 94 games.

"We've got to come back and play better in the second half," Chicago's Sammy Sosa said. "We're one or two or three out of first place. It's no big deal. It'd be big if it were 10 or 15 [games]. Two or three, I'll take that any time."

"We're not a .500 club," Mark Grudzielanek said. "Hopefully we can regroup and try to get some momentum into the second half."

Carlos Zambrano (6-8) gave up seven runs on eight hits and three walks over five-plus innings. It's the most runs he's been charged with in his 19 starts.

"They've got a pretty good team," Zambrano said. "You can't make a mistake with that type of team."

Shane Reynolds (7-4) notched the win for the Braves, who finish the first half with the best record in baseball at 61-32. Reynolds gave up one run -- unearned -- on seven hits over six innings.

Sosa went 2-for-5 and closed the first half with a six-game hitting streak, batting .538 (14-for-26) in that stretch.

The Cubs, who have experienced some frightening injuries already, dodged a potentially serious incident when reliever Antonio Alfonseca was struck on his right butt by Chipper Jones' line drive in the Braves ninth. Alfonseca fell to the ground but stayed in the game and retired the next two batters.

"It hit him real good but he didn't want to come out," Baker said. "That was very brave on his part."

"It's better here [on his backside] than my back," Alfonseca said.

With two out in the Cubs third, Tom Goodwin reached second on a fielding error by second baseman Mark DeRosa, who is subbing for injured All-Star Marcus Giles. Grudzielanek walked and Sosa followed with an infield hit to Furcal at short. Goodwin raced home from second to take a 1-0 lead.

The Braves tied the game on Andruw Jones' sacrifice fly and took a 2-0 lead on Castilla's two-out RBI single in the fourth.

Atlanta batted around in the sixth. Zambrano walked the first two batters he faced and both scored on Fick's double to go ahead 4-1. Castilla added an RBI single to chase Zambrano. One out later, Furcal hit a two-run single off Dave Veres for a 7-1 lead.

"What got us into trouble was back-to-back walks and back-to-back 0-2 hits," Baker said. "Strikeouts and double plays -- those double plays are killing us. They're the pitcher's best friend and a hitter's worst nightmare."

Alex Gonzalez added an RBI double with one out in the Cubs eighth.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has been trying to find a good match to help give the lineup a boost.

"We're possibly a couple players away," Baker said, "but you've got to get the right players. You don't want to mortgage the future completely for today. And you've got to have somebody to deal with. He had a couple near deals and they backed out on the other side.

"But in the meantime," Baker said, "you've got to do the job here."

Sosa would like to see a new face.

"We need all the help we can get," Sosa said. "It's just a matter of time."

With Sunday's crowd of 39,832, the four-game series drew a record 157,902 fans to Wrigley Field. The old mark was 156,590 set in the Cubs' four-game series July 2-5, 1993, against Colorado.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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