Cincinnati slips past Cubs in 12

Rick Gano and Rick Gano

Javier Valentin doubled in the go-ahead run with two outs in the 12th inning and the Cincinnati Reds played spoiler again, sending the Chicago Cubs to a crushing 2-1 defeat yesterday.

Chicago lost for the fifth time in six games, including back-to-back 12-inning heartbreakers to the Reds, and fell one game behind idle Houston for the NL wild card with three games left. The Cubs also wasted a stellar outing by Mark Prior, who struck out 16 in nine innings.

Adam Dunn, who earlier broke Bobby Bonds’ major league record for strikeouts in a single season when he fanned in his first two at-bats, singled in the 12th off Mike Remlinger (1-2). Dunn stole second and moved to third on a grounder before Valentin doubled to right off Kyle Farnsworth.

Chicago loaded the bases for the third time in the 11th, but Juan Padilla (1-0) escaped by striking out Michael Barrett.

Pinch-hitter Jose Macias singled to start the bottom of the 12th and reached second on a one-out sacrifice by Nomar Garciaparra. Aramis Ramirez walked before Moises Alou flied to center to end the game and perhaps Chicago’s chances of returning to the postseason.

Prior allowed just three hits and a run and matched his career high for strikeouts, but the Cubs’ offense sputtered again, failing three times to score with the bases loaded. Chicago left 12 on base.

Prior had 13 strikeouts through the first six innings, fanning the side in the second and sixth innings. He was also part of major league history when he struck out Dunn in the second and fourth innings, giving the slugger a major league single-season record of 190 whiffs, one more than Bonds in 1970.

Prior struck out Dunn for a third time in the seventh but with two outs Austin Kearns — who’d hurt the Cubs with a tying double and winning homer Wednesday — homered off the left-field foul pole to tie it at 1.

Sammy Sosa, just 3-for-22 in his previous six games, hit his 34th homer in the sixth — the 573rd of his career, tying Harmon Killebrew for seventh place on the career list.

But the Cubs didn’t get much else off Reds starter Aaron Harang, who allowed just four hits and the run in seven strong innings.

The Cubs had the bases loaded in the second and fourth innings but Harang retired Prior both times to end the inning, first on a strikeout and then on a hard fielder’s choice grounder to second.

Notes: The Cubs finish the season with three home games against the Braves. If they need a win Sunday to get in, they’ll turn to ex-Braves star Greg Maddux to beat his former team. … Dunn, with 101 RBIs, has the highest total of any player in the majors without a sacrifice fly. … Padilla’s win was his first in the majors. He entered with a 12.71 ERA.