'We just took it': Brewers celebrate at Wrigley after beating Cubs for division title
CHICAGO — It’s a small, cramped, dingy joint with a nasty, musty smell like you’re in your grandmother’s basement.
It’s the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, the smallest in all of Major League Baseball.
But, oh my God, the Milwaukee Brewers couldn’t have chosen a better place to throw a party Monday and did they ever celebrate.
They sprayed champagne and dumped beer on everyone they could find in the clubhouse, pranced around on the field, hoisted shots in the manager’s office, and were taking family pictures in the middle of Wrigley Field for nearly three hours after the game ended.
“It was the perfect place to do it,’’ said Brewers veteran left fielder Ryan Braun, the only player left from their 2011 team, with former teammate Craig Counsell now their manager. “To beat a team like the Cubs, at their place, and celebrate here, pretty special.’’
The Brewers, those pesky, nagging neighbors from the North who refused to go away all summer, ruined the Chicago Cubs’ scheduled celebration, forcing them to pack up their champagne, which may be sitting in storage until next season.
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The Brewers are champions of the National League Central, beating the Cubs 3-1 Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field in the first division tiebreaker since 1980, ending the Cubs’ title reign.
The Cubs are still in the playoffs, but barely.
They now will have to play a one-game, sudden-death elimination Tuesday night against the loser of the Colorado Rockies-Los Angeles Dodgers tiebreaker. If the Cubs win, they’ll face the Brewers again. Lose, and their season is over.
The Brewers don’t care who they play in the NL Division Series. They had to win their last eight games to win the division, and they did it.
“No one gave us anything,’’ Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “We just took it.’’
There’s no reason now why the Brewers won’t win the NL pennant. They have home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. They have a powerful lineup. And they have the finest bullpen in the league.
“All year we knew how good Milwaukee was,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, “and they were relentless.’’
The Cubs managed just three hits, and once the Brewers took a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning on run-scoring singles by Cain and Braun, it was all over.
Counsell called on All-Star reliever Josh Hader, who had struggled twice the past week, and told him four words when he came into the game.
“This is your game.’’
Hader had dominated the Cubs all season, yielding a .121 batting average and striking out 29 of the 58 batters he faced.
He stepped to the mound and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts. He came back in the ninth, instead of closer Jeremy Jeffress, and retired the first two batters until Javy Baez got a two-strike single.
That brought up Cubs power-hitter Anthony Rizzo, who homered off Hader on Labor Day, and accounted for the Cubs’ lone run Monday with a fifth-inning blast 25 rows deep into the bleachers, bringing the crowd of 38,450 to its feet. Counsell didn’t move. This was Hader’s game.
“There was a strange part of me that wanted the Rizzo matchup to end the game,’’ Counsell told USA TODAY Sports in his office, surrounded only by family. “Rizzo is the guy who got him before. I thought for Josh to get him would be perfect.’’
Rizzo, working the count, hit a long fly ball to right field, and the crowd immediately screamed, only to groan when it fell softly into leather, with the Brewers’ fans dancing in the aisles.
“That’s baseball, man,’’ Counsell said. “That’s how you want to win it, with a guy like that at the plate, a guy that’s got him before. That’s a big-time save right there.’’
Really, that’s how the Brewers have won all season, overcoming a five-game deficit on Labor Day to catch the Cubs, having their starter go no more than five innings and turning the game to their vaunted bullpen.
Oh yeah, and the probable 2018 MVP, Christian Yelich, drove that bus to the NL Central finish line, hitting .462 with six homers and 20 RBI in September, and he delivered three more hits in October, just in case someone needed to be convinced he deserves the award.
“The only way he doesn’t win it is if it’s rigged,’’ Hader said. “Come on. Who else is there?’’
Uh, no one.
Perhaps no one enjoyed this moment more than Yelich, who was marooned in South Florida on a team that never won, or was even close to contending, and now is sitting atop the NL Central division.
“It’s pretty sweet,’’ Yelich said. “It certainly makes me appreciate this more, doing it with these type of guys, and in front of these fans. How we did it is really special.
“This feeling today is something I’ll never forget.’’
Perhaps, no one in Milwaukee will ever forget this day, either. They showed up in force, turning Wrigley into Miller Park South. When the game was over, there were thousands of Brewers fans with tears running down their cheeks, screaming for their heroes.
They did it.
They beat the mighty Cubs.
Right in their own home ballpark.
“This is the game we wanted,’’ Counsell said.
This is the victory they got.
“We did it,’’ Brewers GM David Stearns said, champagne dripping off his head. “We really did it.’’
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