Cubs celebrate playoff clincher after loss to Pirates

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(Source: @Cubs/Twitter)

CHICAGO (AP) — The blaring music and smell of sparkling wine were unmistakable once the doors opened to the media.

By then, the Chicago Cubs' clubhouse was mostly empty.

Players and coaches were back on the field, dousing each other, posing for pictures and trading hugs.

Fans chanted "Thank you, Tom! Thank you, Tom!" at a drenched chairman Tom Ricketts.

The last to leave the field was first-year manager Joe Maddon, wearing a 2015 postseason cap and a towel draped around his neck. He waved to fans yelling "Joe! Joe! Joe!" as he exited.

The Cubs lost 4-0 to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday afternoon, but Maddon and the Cubs weren't going to let that spoil their celebration.

With San Francisco losing to Oakland Friday night, Chicago clinched its first postseason berth since 2008. The Cubs could have wrapped it up earlier that day, but a loss to the Pirates put the celebration on hold.

They finally got their chance to let loose after Saturday's game.

"It's both a sense of accomplishment and pride and the contributions of so many people who overcame a lot to get here," Theo Epstein said. "It also feels like a beginning. I don't feel like this is the ultimate goal."

That, of course, would be winning the World Series for the first time since 1908. As general manager in Boston, Epstein helped end one long championship drought. And as president of baseball operations in Chicago, he is trying to do the same.

The Cubs' road back to the playoffs was a difficult one. Chicago endured five straight losing seasons before this year and a top-to-bottom overhaul under Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

"Last night, there was an awful lot of thinking back to like 2011, 2012, and how daunting a task it seemed for a lot of people involved," said Epstein, who acknowledged he was barely awake when San Francisco lost.

But on Saturday, the Cubs were tipping their caps as fans roared following a pre-game video tribute.

"The feeling around Wrigleyville and in Chicago now is one that hasn't been here for a long time," said NL Cy Young Award candidate Jake Arrieta. "I'm just happy to be a part of it with these group of guys and with the people, the fans, that are behind us."

The Cubs began loading up the minor league system almost as soon as Epstein and Hoyer were hired in the fall of 2011, and it paid off in a big way.

Young players started to make their way to the majors last season. The Cubs then made it clear they were serious about winning when they hired Maddon and signed left-hander Jon Lester in the offseason.

Besides those big additions, there were the arrivals of rookies Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell.

All three debuted this season. And all three made a big impact.

They've been having a good time this season, and the fun goes beyond an 89-64 record that matched Kansas City's for third best in the majors entering Saturday's game.

Fun is something Maddon has stressed all year, along with celebrating success. The Cubs turn their clubhouse into a nightclub after victories with a high-tech sound system and strobe lights.

They had a pajama party for a flight home. Maddon recently gave Pedro Strop a "day at the beach" with a chair, an ice bucket full of beer, a margarita and other beach paraphernalia in front of the reliever's locker as a reward for a shut-down outing.

On Tuesday, Maddon turned Wrigley Field into a zoo. A sloth, a penguin, a snow leopard and a flamingo as well as other animals from the zoo in Columbus, Ohio, were on display in the left field corner, and the flamingo made an appearance at the manager's pre-game news conference. There was no Billy goat, but a day later, a cheetah named Bibi was at Wrigley.

"He's been awesome every step of the way," Russell said. "From taking guys out to pinch-hitting guys, he's just been on the ball all season. There's not many times I can say he was wrong because he's right 99 percent of the time."

Maddon talked about making the playoffs as soon as he was hired. And on Saturday, he talked about the championship drought.

"The drought is attractive," he said.

And if the Cubs end it, imagine the celebration in Chicago.


Pirates: A.J. Burnett (9-5, 3.15 ERA) looks to build on a win over Colorado as the Pirates wrap up their three-game series against Chicago.

Cubs: Tops in the majors in wins, Jake Arrieta (20-6, 1.88) tries to become the first Cubs pitcher with more than 20 since Fergie Jenkins went 24-13 in 1971.