By David Just
For the Sun-Times
Joe Maddon lounged around and watched Jersey Boys late Friday night.
He, like many of the Cubs players he manages, wasn’t too concerned about the Giants-A’s game being played 2,000 miles away in Oakland. So, even as the A’s downed the Giants to secure the Cubs their first playoff berth since 2008, Maddon just smiled.
“Here we go,” he said to himself as the clock ticked toward midnight.
The subdued emotions were due, in part, to the game the Cubs would have to play at noon the next day. And he knew a party would surely follow.
Not even a 4-0 loss to the Pirates on Saturday – the Cubs’ third straight defeat – could diminish the celebration that took place in the clubhouse and continued on the infield at Wrigley.
“It’s kind of a weird way to clinch,” rookie third baseman Kris Bryant said, “but we’ll take it.”
The Cubs tarped the lockers, uncorked the champagne and broke out the Bud Light in the cramped clubhouse before continuing the party in front of fans that stayed to watch.
As Maddon often reiterated this season, these Cubs never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.
The celebration may have been a day late, but team president Theo Epstein knew his team deserved this.
“When you clinch it doesn’t always go exactly the way you want,” Epstein said. “But our guys deserve this. And, frankly, it would have been out of personality for them not to celebrate in a big way despite the circumstances. They deserve it. I’m proud of them. Let them do whatever they want within the law.”
The loss Saturday dropped the Cubs to 5 1/2 games behind the Pirates for the top National League Wild Card spot, which means they’ll almost certainly finish the season in third place.
“We didn’t win the game today,” Maddon said, “but we have won the season to this point.”
The playoff berth marks the 17th time the Cubs will advance to the postseason.
For Maddon, it is his fifth postseason appearance as a big-league manager.
He received a boisterous ovation from the remaining Cubs fans as he retreated to the dugout after the party died down.
“Joe is the perfect manager for this team and this situation,” Epstein said. “I’m even more impressed with him now, having been with him every day for one season. It’s authentic. He brings everybody up around him. Keeps it loose. Great for young players. They love being around him. There’s no doubt we’re not here today without him.”
Among the Cubs starters Saturday, only David Ross, Dexter Fowler and Jason Hammel have appeared in a postseason game.
Despite their inexperience, the Cubs have been arguably the best team in baseball since the start of August.
“We’ve really made a winning culture in here this season,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s a credit to a lot of people. We’re going to enjoy this one.”
Their attention will soon turn to the remaining eight games and the upcoming postseason.
As it stands, the Cubs would play the Pirates in the NL Wild Card game on Oct. 7 in Pittsburgh.
“We certainly have much bigger goals ahead,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s a marathon. The goal of the marathon is to end up in the postseason and it’s nice to be able to check that goal off the list.”