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Cubs Savor a Sweet Moment

They celebrate with fans after a doubleheader sweep of the Pirates clinches first division title since 1989.

September 28, 2003|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — The taste of victory was so sweet Sammy Sosa wanted to share it with his loyal followers in the right-field bleachers.

So, he sprayed them with celebratory champagne.

Many of his Chicago Cub teammates jogged around the perimeter of the outfield, followed by Manager Dusty Baker, saluting the fans and soaking up the delirious atmosphere at Wrigley Field.

"It's beautiful," Sosa said after his 40th homer helped the Cubs sweep a doubleheader from the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-2 and 7-2, Saturday and win the NL Central.

The Cubs -- 67-95 just a year ago -- advanced to meet Atlanta in the first round.

"The city of Chicago has been yearning for this and it's awesome," center fielder Kenny Lofton said. "We're in the playoffs and that's a start. The fans haven't seen it in a while."

Baker's mission when he arrived as manager in November was to change the Cubs, convert them from years of losing.

"I just said 'Why not us?' " Baker said. "This is only the first step in a four-step process. We've got three steps to climb and this club is willing and ready."

Sosa homered in the first and Matt Clement pitched 7 2/3 strong innings as the Cubs earned their first division championship since Don Zimmer led them to the NL East crown in 1989.

They are 19-7 in September.

The victory touched off a raucous celebration at Wrigley Field among the 40,121 fans.

"Next Year is Here," read one sign from a fan. "Oh Joy," said another.

Fans stayed in their seats for more than an hour after the game ended as players in championship T-shirts and caps mingled on the field.

"They have been supporting us the whole year," Sosa said. "This is the year. We are going to surprise a lot of people."

The Cubs are in the postseason for the first time since 1998, when they beat Baker and the San Francisco Giants in a one-game playoff for the NL wild card.

Thanks to a Friday rainout, the Wrigley fans got to see two memorable victories on the same afternoon.

The Cubs got their chance to clinch because of second-place Houston's 5-2 loss to Milwaukee earlier in the day.

In the opener, Mark Prior pitched 6 2/3 impressive innings and Damian Miller homered.

Prior (18-6) gave up seven hits and two runs, striking out 10 and improving to 10-1 since coming off the disabled list Aug. 4.

Then, the Cubs moved quickly to wrap it up.

Sosa became the first NL player to reach 40 homers six straight times with a 450-foot blast in the first off Ryan Vogelsong.

Chicago added five more in the second, highlighted by Mark Grudzielanek's two-run, bases-loaded single. Moises Alou homered later.

Clement (14-12) did the rest, giving up seven hits. He lost his shutout when Abraham Nunez hit an RBI triple and scored on a passed ball in the eighth.

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Who's Cursed?

The Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox find themselves both in the postseason for only the third time in history, and have met once in the World Series, the Red Sox winning in six games in 1918. But for all the talk of Boston's "Curse of the Bambino," Cub fans have been longer suffering. Postseason lowlights (since 1900):

*--* CUBS RED SOX 1908 Last World Series title 1918 1945 Last World Series 1986 3 Division titles since 1969 5 14 Total postseason berths 15

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