Even extra innings couldn't decide the NL wild-card race. It will take an extra game tonight at Wrigley Field to determine the league's final playoff spot.

"Maybe somebody is looking out for us," Cubs shortstop Jeff Blauser said Sunday after Chicago and San Francisco finished 162 games tied at 89-73. "What would somebody with a death-row reprieve say? Whoopee. We've got another chance."About a minute after the Cubs lost 4-3 in 11 innings at Houston, Neifi Perez's ninth-inning homer off Robb Nen (7-7) gave the Rockies a 9-8 victory over the Giants. San Francisco wasted a 7-0 lead at Coors Field.

"I'm halfway up the stairs coming to the clubhouse, and people were in here celebrating," said Cubs closer Rod Beck, who allowed a leadoff triple to Carl Everett in the 11th and Richard Hidalgo's sacrifice fly.

"I knew it wasn't because we did good," Beck said. "People were jumping up and down shouting, `There's a tomorrow! There's a tomorrow!"'

At Coors Field, Giants manager Dusty Baker had just heard about the Cubs' loss.

"There was a 30-second swing between them losing and us losing," Baker said. "We are happy going to Chicago. We could be going home to paint the garage."

Had the Mets beaten the Braves in Atlanta, there would have been a three-way playoff. But New York (88-74) fell behind by five runs and was eliminated with a 7-2 loss.

The Mets lost their final five games, scoring just seven runs in their last 44 innings. During three days in Atlanta, the Mets stranded 32 runners - 11 on Sunday - and left the bases loaded four times.

"I don't know what happened," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "If I knew, I would have done something about it. That's the frustrating part. I couldn't do anything about it. I should have done something, I should have done something . . . "

The Padres open the NL playoffs Tuesday night at Houston, while Atlanta plays the San Francisco-Chicago winner at Turner Field in its opener Wednesday.

At the Astrodome, Sammy Sosa didn't homer but singled for his 158th RBI, fourth-best in NL history, going 2-for-5. Only a four-homer game - something that's been done just 12 times in baseball history - can gain him a tie with McGwire.

"I'm not thinking about home runs," Sosa said. "I have to sacrifice myself for the team."

Scott Elarton (2-1) pitched two perfect innings.

ROCKIES 9, GIANTS 8: The Giants, who trailed the Cubs by five games with 10 days left, led 7-6 in the seventh before Vinny Castilla hit a two-run homer off Julian Tavarez. San Francisco came right back in the eighth and tied it on Jeff Kent's solo homer off Pedro Astacio.

Colorado's Larry Walker went 2-for-4 and won his first batting title with a .363 average, nine points ahead of New York's John Olerud. Jerry Dipoto (3-4) pitched a scoreless ninth.

BRAVES 7, METS 2: New York, in a three-way tie after Friday's games, was stymied by Greg Maddux (18-9), who helped Atlanta to its 106th win, the most in the NL since the Mets had 108 in 1986. Armando Reynosa (7-3) was pounded for five runs and six hits in 12/3 innings.

CARDINALS 7, EXPOS 6: Mark McGwire finished a mind-boggling nine home runs ahead of Roger Maris' old record.

"I don't know if I want to break my own record," McGwire said. "I think I'd rather just leave it as is."

McGwire, who hit five homers on the final weekend, connected against rookie Mike Thurman in the third inning at Busch Stadium, then broke a 3-all tie in the seventh with a three-run shot off Carl Pavano (6-9).

"I think it will stand for a while. I know how grueling it is to do what I've done this year," McGwire said. "Will it be broken someday? It could be. Will I be alive? Possibly."

PADRES 3, DIAMONDBACKS 2: Greg Vaughn became the fourth player to hit 50 homers this season, joining McGwire, Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. .

Vaughn broke a 1-all tie in the eighth with a two-run shot off Aaron Small (3-1). Before this year, there had never been more than two 50-homer players in a single season.

Hoffman got three straight outs for his 53rd save in 54 chances, tying the NL saves record set by current teammate Randy Myers, who did it for the Cubs in 1993. Matt Clement (2-0) got the win in relief.

MARLINS 6, PHILLIES 5; PHILLIES 7, MARLINS 3: The Marlins, who swept the Phillies on Saturday, finished at 54-108, the worst record in the majors since 1979, when Oakland also dropped 108 and Toronto lost 109. The Marlins had the worst record ever for a defending World Series champion, breaking the previous low (74-88) set by the 1991 Cincinnati Reds.

REDS 4, PIRATES 1: Cincinnati put together the majors' first all-brother infield - Barry and Stephen Larkin, and Bret and Aaron Boone - and won on Aaron Boone's three-run homer.

Roberto Petagine hit a solo homer and Boone had a three-run shot off Jose Silva (6-7) as visiting Pittsburgh finished with an eight-game losing streak.

DODGERS 2, BREWERS 1: Chan Ho Park (15-9) allowed one run and eight hits in six innings at Dodger Stadium, setting a career high for wins. Mark Grudzielanek drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly off Bill Pulsipher (3-4). Jeff Shaw got three outs for his 48th save.



The showdown

San Francisco at Chicago Cubs, 6 p.m., ESPN: Tonight, the real fun begins. The San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs start the baseball playoff season even earlier than expected with a one-game matchup at Wrigley Field for the NL wild-card spot.

Both teams lost Sunday, leaving them tied and setting up the NL's first one-game playoff since 1980 when Houston beat Los Angeles. Mark Gardner (13-5) will pitch for the Giants against Steve Trachsel (14-8), with the winner advancing to play at Atlanta on Wednesday.