Almost out of habit, the Cubs gave their fans something to cheer about Friday.
With a celebration of the National League Central Division title already planned win or lose against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs rallied for two runs in the ninth to tie, then won it 5-4 on Miguel Montero’s lead-off home run in the 10th inning to appropriately set the mood for the postgame celebration of the Cubs’ first division title since 2008.
Trailing 4-2 in the ninth, Willson Contreras doubled leading off and scored on Chris Coghlan’s single. Almora lined out sharply to left field. Tommy LaStella’s sharp grounder deflected off first baseman Chris Carter for an error, with Coghlan advancing to second. Kawasaki was hit by pitch from reliever Carlos Torres to load the bases.
Russell beat out a soft liner toward second to tie the game 4-4. But Matt Szczur, on a 3-2 pitch, lined out to shallow center for the second out. And Javier Baez bounced back to the pitcher to send the game into extra innings.
After clinching the title late Thursday night despite losing to the Brewers when the Giants beat the Cardinals in San Francisco, the Cubs made plans to celebrate at Wrigley Field, win or lose.
“Obviously sometimes you’d rather celebrate on the field and all that, but it doesn’t really matter. The key is getting in,” Cubs catcher David Ross said before the game. “This is one of our goals and steps toward a bigger goal. So hopefully there’s a lot more partying to go on, especiially here at Wrigley. We’re going to enjoy this. We’ll enjoy ourselves [Friday night] — don’t worry about that.”
The Wrigley Field crowd of 40,823 gave the Cubs a standing ovation when the players emerged from the dugout and walked onto the field 15 minutes before the start of the game to acknowledge the fans.
Manager Joe Maddon rested several of his regulars, including MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Russell, Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward.
Even without celebrating Thursday night, at least some players were in a relaxed mood Friday.
“I’m not going to be focused on anything,” Ross said when asked it it would be tough to focus in this game. “I’m just going to watch the game and enjoy it.”
Albert Almora started in center field and had two hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth inning that tied the game 2-2.
Almora singled to right field leading off the seventh inning, but was thrown out at second after he rounded the bag and turned back on LaStella’s single. After Munenori Kawasaki walked, Ross — pinch-hitting for starter John Lackey — grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Lackey allowed four runs on nine hits over seven innings. Scooter Gennett’s two-run homer in the top of the seventh broke the 2-2 tie.
The Cubs didn’t go down easily.
The Cubs planned to party Friday into the night, but get right back to the business of setting themselves up for the playoffs on Saturday. Last year they also lost the first game after clinching a playoff spot, but won their final eight games to go into the wild-card game against the Pirates with momentum.
“The biggest thing will just be rest,” Maddon said. “If you’re rested a couple days and you go out and all of a sudden, you’re starting to feel right again or I’m able to do what I had been doing before.
You get fatigued and I just cant get the bat there and all of a sudden the bat feels quicker. Those are the kind of things I want to focus on. It’s not perfect. I gotta talk to the coaches. I gotta talk to the players. I gotta watch what I’m seeing. I gotta feel what’s going on. All that stuff is important to make sure that these guys are ready for that first playoff game.”