Division title close at hand

Originally Published: September 27, 2003
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- They stood on chairs. They stood on railings. They waved their arms and splashed warm beer in what became a wild sea of madness.

And yet the Cubs hadn't won anything.

Sure, they had beaten Pittsburgh 4-2 and, combined with Milwaukee's 5-2 win over Houston, had reduced their magic number to one. But really, the Cubs hadn't won anything. They hadn't yet accomplished their season-long goal of reaching the postseason.

But nobody seemed to care. Wrigley Field trembled.

"Everyone was into it," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said during a brief news conference before the second game of Saturday's doubleheader. "It's nice to see them all watching the scoreboard."

And did they ever. Each time the Brewers scored and the hand-operated scoreboard in center fielder was changed, the fans rose to their feet in ovation. When the final score was posted, Wrigley exploded -- so much so that Kyle Farnsworth had to step off the mound and collect himself before throwing his next pitch.

"At one point, I threw the ball in the dirt and got a standing ovation," said Cubs starter Mark Prior, who struck out 10 in 6 2/3 innings. "But [these fans] really deserve it."

The similarities between the game here and the one in Houston were eerie. Here, the Pirates jumped out to a 1-0 lead before the Cubs made it 2-1, eventually winning 4-2. In Houston, the Astros led 1-0 before the Brewers went ahead 2-1. Then Milwaukee put it away 5-2.

"I wasn't paying much attention, but when you hear those fans starting to yell, you know something pretty good is going on," Prior said.

"We've got all the help we're going to get. Now it's our job to finish it off."

Though he struck out 10, Prior labored for much of the game, surrendering seven hits and a pair of walks, and totaled 133 pitches. After Prior surrendered a two-out walk to Abraham Nunez in the seventh, Baker removed the Cubs ace in favor of Farnsworth, who responded by getting Pirates catcher Jason Kendall to ground out.

"When he came out, he said, 'Skip, I don't have anything left,'" Baker said.

Said Prior: "I was gassed."

Farnsworth combined with closer Joe Borowski to keep the Pirates scoreless through the final two-plus innings.

"Farnsworth had a very good outing," Baker said. "Like I said, maybe that rainout was a blessing in disguise."

The Cubs victory and the Astros loss guaranteed Chicago a Monday one-game playoff at worst. Any combination of a Cubs victory or Astros loss would give Chicago the NL Central title, its first division crown since 1989.

Asked if he had any postgame bubbly on ice, Baker said no. But he did reveal there's a cold bottle of Cristal in his refrigerator, a gift from Kansas City Royal Rondell White for Baker including White on the NL All-Star team when the outfielder was a pre-trade Padre.

"But I don't like champagne anyway," Baker said. "I'm a Scotch guy."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.

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