CHICAGO – Jeromy Burnitz hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the seventh inning, Derrek Lee also connected and the Chicago Cubs beat Houston 3-2 to cut the Astros’ NL wild-card lead to one game.

The Philadelphia Phillies beat Cincinnati earlier, so Houston knew it needed to win to preserve its two-game cushion. And it looked as if the Astros would do just that after taking a 2-1 lead into the seventh and turning the game over to their bullpen, which hadn’t given up a run since Wednesday.

But Chad Qualls got in trouble quickly, allowing a leadoff single to Lee. With two outs, Mike Gallo (0-1) relieved. He hadn’t allowed a run in 5 1-3 innings spanning eight outings, but Burnitz sent a 2-2 pitch over the wall in left-center for his 24th homer.

Gallo walked his next two batters before Dan Wheeler relieved. Wheeler gave up a walk, too, before finally getting out of the inning on Jose Macias’ groundout.

Jerome Williams (6-9) won for the first time since Sept. 4, allowing two runs and four hits in seven innings. He walked a season-high six and struck out three. Ryan Dempster pitched the ninth for his 31st save in 33 chances, retiring pinch-hitter Jeff Bagwell with a runner on to end it.

Andy Pettitte has not beaten the Cubs in five career starts against them, but he pitched a gem in this one. He struck out four, walked none and gave up only two hits through six innings, retiring 12 straight during one stretch. His one blemish was Lee’s first-inning homer that gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead.

As well as Pettitte pitched, though, the Astros couldn’t give him any support. They stranded six runners in the first four innings, including three in the second, when they loaded the bases with none out.

Lance Berkman and Michael Lamb drew walks, and Jason Lane singled. But Williams worked out of the jam, striking out Adam Everett and Pettitte and getting Brad Ausmus on a popup.

As soon as Pettitte was pulled, though, the Astros found some offense. Orlando Palmeiro, pinch-hitting for the left-hander, tripled into the corner in right, scoring Everett and tying the game at 1. Willy Taveras followed with a sacrifice fly, and the Astros had a 2-1 lead.

Notes: Rain delayed the game for 58 minutes in the top of the third inning. … Berkman drew walks in the second and third, giving him 18 in the last 12 games. … With a crowd of 38,121, the Cubs topped the 3 million mark for the second straight year. … Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton, who once called games for the Cubs, worked his last game at Wrigley Field. Hamilton, in his 21st season with the Astros, will do only home games next season.

AP-ES-09-25-05 1801EDT


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