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Hot Cubbies Chop Braves

Not only did the Chicago Cubs sweep the Atlanta Braves for the first time since 1989, they also beat three of the hottest pitchers in baseball.

"We beat three seven-game winners," Mark Grace, the only Cub left from the '89 team which swept the Braves, said. "We have a lot to be proud of."

Kevin Tapani pitched 7 1-3 strong innings Sunday night to lead the Cubs to a 4-2 victory and three-game sweep of the Braves.

Matt Mieske, Manny Alexander, Scott Servais and Tapani each hit RBI singles against Denny Neagle (7-2) in a four-run sixth inning.

In the three games, the Cubs beat Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood and Neagle. Atlanta has now lost four straight for the first time since June, 1997.

Tapani (7-3) improved to 9-1 in 13 career starts at Wrigley Field. The right-hander, who left the game because of slight soreness in his groin, allowed six hits and one walk and struck out three.

"I pitched differently tonight," said Tapani, who lost to Atlanta in his last start May 25. "Down in Atlanta, I didn't throw too many back to back fastballs. Today, we stayed hard."

Why the change?

"I was trying to re-establish what I do best," he said.

He also enjoyed the crowd's bizarre cheering patterns. Most of the 29,285 fans at Wrigley Field were tuned in to Game 7 of the Chicago Bulls' NBA playoff game against the Indiana Pacers, which the Bulls won while Atlanta was batting in the eighth inning. The crowd was on its feet as Tapani delivered a 2-1 pitch to pinch-hitter Danny Bautista.

"I liked the way the fans were in the game," Tapani said, smiling.

Rod Beck, who had blown his last two save opportunities, allowed Andres Galarraga's 19th homer in the ninth before picking up his 15th save.

"After blowing two in a row, it always feels good to get back up on the horse," Beck said.

"There was no consideration about anybody pitching that inning except him," Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said of Beck, who has appeared in five straight games.

Neagle, who had won six in a row, allowed four runs and a season-high 11 hits in seven innings. He struck out eight.

"I was in cruise mode," Neagle said. "I felt like I could pitch a shutout and then I blink and they put four runs up on the board.

"Nobody could expect us to stay on the roll we were on. I'm not worried. We're not going to Milwaukee and panic about this."

The Braves are headed to Milwaukee with their other seven-game winner, Greg Maddux, scheduled to start.

Chipper Jones hit his 15th homer with one out in the fourth, driving a 3-2 pitch from Tapani into the right-field bleachers.

The Cubs scored all their runs in the sixth. With one out, Grace, Jeff Blauser and Mieske each singled ttie the game. After Henry Rodriguez struck out, Alexander singled to score Blauser and Servais singled to drive in Mieske.

Tapani then bunted and Galarraga fielded the ball but did not throw as second baseman Keith Lockhart and Neagle were late covering first base. Alexander scored on the hit to make it 4-1.

The Braves had runners at second and third with two out in the fifth but left fielder Henry Rodriguez made a diving catch of Ozzie Guillen's line drive to end the inning.

Notes: Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa missed his third straight start because of a sore left thumb, injured Thursday. His status was day to day. ... Mickey Morandini singled in the Cubs first inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Despite the loss, Atlanta finished May winning 21 games, a franchise record for the month and an Atlanta record for any month. ... Neagle's only other loss this year was April 8 at Pittsburgh. ... Tuesday night's Atlanta-Milwaukee game will be a turn-back-the-clock game with the Braves wearing the 1958 Braves road uniforms and Milwaukee donning the 1958 Braves home uniforms.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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