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HOU@CHC: LaHair lines walk-off single to right field

CHICAGO -- Wednesday's game was more than No. 162 for Bryan LaHair. It was a chance for him to make his grandmother Theresa smile.

LaHair hit a solo home run in the second and a walk-off RBI single with two outs in the ninth to lift the Cubs to a 5-4 victory over the Astros, who were playing their last game as a member of the National League.

This was personal for LaHair, and not just because it was a chance to redeem himself after going from National League All-Star to bench player following the rise of Anthony Rizzo. LaHair's grandmother is battling cancer and it's been a difficult fight.

"That game was for her today," LaHair said.

With the game tied at 4 in the ninth against Hector Ambriz (1-1), Anthony Recker walked and was lifted for pinch-runner Darwin Barney, who moved up one out later on Tony Campana's bunt single. One out later, Starlin Castro, the only regular in the starting lineup on the last day of the season, playing in his 162nd game, drew a walk to load the bases. LaHair then lined the first pitch to right for the game-winner.

He had talked to his mother last night to get an update.

"The last thing my mom said was, 'Get one for her,'" LaHair said. "I told her to let [his grandmother] know I'll get one."

The Cubs ended with 101 losses, second-most in franchise history, and behind only the 1962 and '66 teams that finished 59-103.

"It's better than 102 [losses]," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of the Cubs' dramatic win. "It's nice to have a walk-off win to finish the year off, and after the problems with the season and everything like that, the best way you can finish the season is be at home and have a walk-off win."

Sveum will head home to Arizona this weekend, but sounded ready to get back to work.

"When we get in this business of baseball, you're always sad to see the season end," Sveum said. "It's part of your life, and that's what you do on an everyday basis. It's nice to go home and regroup a little bit, but at the same time, it doesn't take too long to want to get right back in the saddle and in the dugout with the guys."

Sveum was most impressed with how the players came prepared for each game, and told them that during his final team meeting in Arizona over the weekend.

"On an everyday basis, I was very proud of how each and every one of them handled a tough situation," Sveum said. "Obviously, we struggled with the record. It's hard to say anything was really disappointing [about the season] other than our losses. You're not going to sit here and point fingers."

This year, Sveum used a franchise-record 53 players. There will likely be a lot of turnover on the Cubs' roster next season.

"We have to fill some holes in starting pitching, bullpen, third base, power bats," Sveum said. "These are your Christmas lists. It's not easy to always get what you want under the Christmas tree, either."

One player unsure of his status is LaHair. He'd like to stay in Chicago, and gave the front office something to think about when he led off the second against Edgar Gonzalez with his 16th home run of the season, and second in the second half, to tie the game at 1. Houston had taken a 1-0 lead on Carlos Corporan's RBI single in the first.

The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, and Recker drew a walk to force in a run. Starting pitcher Travis Wood then followed with a two-run single to left to go ahead, 4-1. That set up LaHair's game-winner.

Wood gave up one run on three hits and five walks over 6 1/3 innings, and was in line for the win until Justin Maxwell hit a three-run home run off Shawn Camp in the eighth to tie the game. LaHair came through with his ninth-inning heroics.

"Any time you walk off, [it's exciting] and it doesn't matter what game it is," LaHair said. "It's always nice to finish a win off in the bottom of the ninth."

Losing 100-plus games should motivate the young Cubs.

"We have a lot of young guys who are learning and trying to make the adjustments up here," Wood said. "I think it can only help us in the long run. This season will leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth. I think we'll all be fired up and ready to go this spring."

Sveum proved he's very patient during what was a trying season. Will fans support the team as it goes through its growing pains? Wednesday's crowd was 27,606, and the Cubs finished with less than 3,000,000 at home for the first time since 2003, drawing 2,882,756 for the season.

"I'm sure they'll gradually get a little less patient," Sveum said. "People still have to understand things don't happen overnight. It's a gradual repair job, as well. Whatever happens in the winter -- free agents, non-tender guys, whoever you bring in -- we have to have some guys who can hit home runs, too. I don't mean literally. Guys have to have good years."

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