Cubs headed to the playoffs
Amid the chaos in the Cubs clubhouse late Friday night was abig-screen television set that no one was watching.
While Carlos Zambrano was hoisting Kerry Wood up as if he were a rag doll, and team president John McDonough was getting his suit drenched,courtesy of a champagne shower, the TV, covered by plastic, showed images of somber Milwaukee manager Ned Yost during a news conference and brooding Brewers slugger Prince Fielder talking in front of his locker.
The Cubs are the National League Central champions.
They took care of business on the field with a 6-0 victory over Cincinnati in front of a crowd of 32,193 -- mostly Cubs fans -- at Great American Ball Park. San Diego overcame a 2-0 deficit to top Milwaukee 6-3 and Miller Park in a game that ended about an hour after the Cubs-Reds.
That gave the Cubs, who finished in last place in 2006, their first postseason berth since 2003 and just the sixth since the 1945 season.
“This is incredible,” outfielder -- and former Thornwood High School star -- Cliff Floyd said. “Chicago. At home. With some of the best guys in baseball it doesn’t get better.”
Rookie pitcher Carmen Pignatiello, a former Providence Catholic High School standout, was in awe as champagne dripped from his hair.
“Starting the year out in Double A and now I’m celebrating with the guys,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve rooted for this team my whole life. Now to be here -- it’s something a lot of guys can’t experience. Some guys go through their whole careers and don’t experience something like this.”
After the game, the Cubs had a much more understated celebration on the field. After two rows of North Siders lined up for high-fives, some looked at the scoreboard, where San Diego held a precious 4-3 lead.
Then it was onto the clubhouse to wait and see if they were champions, or if they had to wait for another shot at it today.
At one point while most of the players were intently watching the Brewers game on various televisions in the clubhouse, manager Lou Piniella was trying to follow the game on his computer in his office, even though he was having mouse issues and isn’t the most skilled guy at working with computers.
“How do you turn this thing off?” he said.
The Brewers had a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the bottom of the sixth. Piniella didn’t need a computer to tell him what happened next. San Diego reliever Cla Meredith got Craig Counsell to ground into an inning-ending double play and the roar from the clubhouse and screaming was all Piniella needed to hear.
Later, when informed of the details about Meredith’s heroics, Piniella said: “Who? I don’t even know who he is.”
As for the game that helped clinch it for the Cubs?
Zambrano became the first Cubs pitcher since Mark Prior in 2003 to win 18 games as Zambrano threw seven shutout innings.
“Thank God we won this game,” he said. “I lost four games against these guys this season and the most important game was today and we did it.”
Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a home run. It’s the 11th time he’s done that this season and the sixth time he’s done it in September. He has 32 homers this year, including 13 this month, tying Ernie Banks’ team mark for homers in September.
Soriano later gunned down Joey Votto at the plate. It was Soriano’s 19th outfield assist this year, the most by a Cub since Hank Sauer’s 19 in 1951.
Derrek Lee hit his 22nd homer of the season in the fifth and Jacque Jones hit a two-run double in the eighth.
The win-and-wait approach is not the conventional way of doing business. But veterans of the postseason wars have seen different unusual circumstances when it comes to trying to pin down a berth into the playoffs.
“One year with the Braves we won a game left the park and boarded the plane,” Mark DeRosa said. “And the pilot announced the score of the other game and we started celebrating on the plane.”
“We clinched on a day off,” pitcher Jason Marquis said. “We celebrated the next day.”
“With Cincinnati (in 1990), we played a Saturday afternoon game and we clinched while we were in a rain delay,” Piniella, who managed that Reds team, said. “We had to finish the game and then celebrate.”
Soriano remembers a New York Yankees’ clincher that didn’t go according to Hoyle.
“We lost a game and waited for the other team to play,” he said. “They lost. So we lost and they lost but we clinched. That was weird.”