CINCINNATI - The television screens went blank, and the Chicago Cubs went out and won.
Sammy Sosa tied Mickey Mantle for 10th place on the career home run list Wednesday night, and Shawn Estes pitched a four-hit shutout as the Cubs beat the Reds 8-0 and preserved their one-game lead in the Central.
"You want to play in October, you've got to win," said Sosa, who started the decisive rally with his 536th career homer. "We don't have that much room."
Before the first pitch, Cubs players were engrossed in the bank of television sets in the visitors' clubhouse. They muttered curses when second-place Houston rallied past San Francisco, meaning Chicago would have to win to remain one game ahead.
Pressure? Not with thousands of Cubs fans in the stands and the major leagues' most generous defense on the field.
Chicago fulfilled the first requirement for a playoff contender: beat up on the downtrodden. The Cubs finish with one game in Cincinnati and three at Wrigley Field against the Pirates.
"Especially after seeing Houston win today, we didn't want to get back into a dead heat with them," said Estes, who pitched his eighth career shutout. "Everything's a playoff atmosphere.
"(Manager) Dusty (Baker) has said all along that our hot streak hasn't even hit yet. Hopefully we're in the middle of it right now, and we can continue to play this way through the playoffs."
The Cubs haven't been alone in first place this late in the season since 1989, the last time they won a division title. They haven't been to the playoffs since they went as the wild card in 1998.
The Cubs have outscored the Reds 14-0 in the two games, allowing six hits.
ASTROS 2, GIANTS 1: Houston was on the brink and it knew it. Then Jose Vizcaino came up with a big hit that kept the Astros from dropping further back in the Central.
Vizcaino pinch hit in the seventh and singled home two to lead host Houston over a lineup of substitutes.
"If we lost, we were in serious trouble, but we live to fight another day," Craig Biggio said. "Obviously, that was a huge hit."
Houston stopped a four-game skid, which had tied a season high.
Roy Oswalt won his fourth straight start since coming off the disabled list.
Sidney Ponson, backed by three double plays, allowed two singles in the first six innings but got in trouble in the seventh.
Ponson hit Jeff Kent with a pitch with two outs and Lance Berkman followed with a double off the leftfield scoreboard, sending Kent to third.
San Francisco intentionally walked Richard Hidalgo and Vizcaino, batting for Brad Ausmus, singled to center to drive in the tying and go-ahead runs.
BRAVES 9, EXPOS 1: Russ Ortiz allowed three hits in five scoreless innings to win his 21st game in Atlanta's final home game of the regular season. Ortiz ran his scoreless innings streak to 14.
CARDINALS 8, BREWERS 4: J.D. Drew homered, Matt Morris pitched seven solid innings and visiting St. Louis staved off elimination. The Cardinals stayed 31/2 behind Chicago in the Central with three games to go.
D'BACKS 6, ROCKIES 3: Randy Johnson beat Colorado for the eighth straight time and Danny Bautista homered twice to back him for visiting Arizona.
METS 5, PIRATES 3: Former Devil Ray Steve Trachsel won his career-high 16th game, helped by Timo Perez's three hits and two RBIs for host New York.