With the music turned up full blast, the lights turned down low and the beer spraying, the champagne flowing and owner Tom Ricketts doing shots, the Cubs clubhouse turned into a night club gone haywire Friday in a celebration that was both a long time coming and yet — the Cubs hope — just the first step toward Chicago baseball immortality.
The Cubs celebrated like they hadn’t won a division title in 108 years Friday. But they earned the right with one of the most dominant seasons a Chicago baseball team has ever had — clinching the National League Central Division title with 16 games to go.
“We just won one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball and we did it by a landslide,” first basebman Anthony Rizzo said. “We have to celebrate this because we’ve been so good all year. Guys have been grinding all year. This is a huge steppingstone to where we want to be and we’re going to celebrate every way along the way.”
And at the same time, the Cubs were steadfast about keeping the big picture in focus. This team expects to win the World Series.
“There’s much more left for the team,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “ This is only the first baby step. We know where we want to go and it’s a lot more than just the division.”
A year ago, the Cubs finished third in the Central and made the playoffs as the second wild-card team. This group basked in the satisfaction of raising the bar themselves and exceeding it. You don’t have to win your division to win the World Series. But this team took a huge step by winning the Central this season.
“This is what we preached in spring training is win the division,” Rizzo said. “We put ourselves in position to line ourselves up with how we want to attack the playoffs [and] whoever we play. So enjoy it, let it sink in for a few days and get ready for October.”
After clinching the division when the Giants beat the Cardinals on the West Coast on Thursday night, the Cubs (94-53) were going to celebrate whether they won or lost Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers. But in typical fashion, they found a way to make the moment special, with a thrilling 5-4 vicory on Miguel Montero’s walk-off home leading off the 10th inning.
With a make-shift lineup that did not include Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler or Jason Heyward, the Cubs trailed 4-2 in the ninth, but rallied behind Willson Contreras, Chris Coghlan and Addison Russell to tie the game in the ninth. It was only a matter of time after that, and Montero ended it quickly, setting an appropriate mood for the raucous celebtration that followed.
“The perfect way — a walk-off win and we come in here to celebrate. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Bryant said. “This team has so much resilience. We’re never going to give up. You saw that in the game today Perfect game, the way we won. I haven’t had this much fun laying baseball in a long time.”
Bryant’s euphoria typified the day.
“I was kind of surprised [at the celebration], but at the same time, not so with this group. This group enjoys having fun,” Hendricks said. “You only have so many celebrations. This is the first step. But to enjoy that sense of accomplisment is pretty awesome.”
Just three more celebrations to go. There’s no doubt this team has enough gas in the tank for that.
“We could get used to [these celebrations],” Hendricks said. “We’ve definitely got the right guys to lead us.”