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Cubs sweep, win NL Central

Joe Rutter

CHICAGO – For a franchise that has a long association with losing, the Chicago Cubs couldn’t have come up with a better winning combination than they did Saturday afternoon.

The Cubs clinched their first division title since 1989 when they swept a doubleheader from the Pirates at Wrigley Field, 4-2 and 7-2. It’s the first post-season appearance for the Cubs since they won the wild-card in a one-game playoff in 1998. Under first-year manager Dusty Baker, they made the playoffs one season after finishing with 67-95 record.

Now the goal is to make the World Series for the first time since 1945 and win it for the first time since 1908.

“This is the first step in a four-step process,” Baker said. “We’ve got three more steps to climb.”

The Cubs came into the day with a one-half game lead over the Houston Astros but received a favorable break when the Astros were beaten for the second consecutive day, 5-2.

That meant it was the Pirates’ turn to play the role of spoiler, but they weren’t up to the challenge.

When Jose Hernandez grounded into a double play for the final out, a wild celebration began inside and outside of this historic ballpark.

The party began on the field as the Cubs swarmed each other in the infield. It extended into the clubhouse and, for the fans, spilled onto the streets. The corner of Clark and Addison streets was shut down as a bottleneck of win-starved fans partied into the night.

The fans could hardly be blamed for their celebratory mood. After all, it was the first time the Cubs clinched a division or league championship on their home field since 1932.

Ironically, the Pirates were the victims that day, too.

“The whole team came together and never gave up,” Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa said. “For us to win the division here in Chicago is like a dream come true.”

Many Pirates players watched on clubhouse television sets as the celebration unfolded.

“I’m envious,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I want my young guys to see that and see what we’re playing for and what it’s all about. Hopefully, we’ll be doing that very soon.”

Given a second-half boost by the acquisition of former Pirates players Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and Randall Simon, the Cubs have gone 37-21 since July 27 and 19-7 in September. It’s their best final month in the past 30 seasons.

“They had a remarkable run in the second half,” McClendon said. “They really stepped it up. Their starting pitching was phenomenal, and the guys they got from us did a fine job.

“I’m extremely happy for Dusty. He did a good job, and it’s well deserved.” Entering the day, a sweep seemed like an unlikely scenario for the Cubs, considering they had swept only four of their previous 52 doubleheaders since 1984.

But two of their young pitchers came through in fine fashion. Mark Prior (18-6) held the Pirates to two runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings to win the first game. Matt Clement (14-12) gave up two runs (one earned) and seven hits in 7 2/3 innings to win the clincher.

Josh Fogg (10-9) and Ryan Vogelsong (2-2) were the losing pitchers, with Vogelsong failing to make it out of the second inning in the second game.

The short start for Vogelsong came after two impressive ones, including a win over the Cubs last weekend at PNC Park.

He is one of many young players on the roster the Pirates are counting on to break the organization’s playoff drought.

“With the direction we’re going, we’re not that far off,” Vogelsong said. “It’s good for us to see (the celebration). You don’t like it, but I think we’re heading in that direction.”


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