The Cubs will have to wait a little longer for an inevitable party to celebrate winning the National League Central. Specifically, they'll celebrate that achievement Friday after clinching the franchise's first division title since 2008 despite losing to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.
Scooter Gennett’s go-ahead two-run double in the seventh proved to be the difference as the Cubs lost, 5-4, to the Brewers in front of 41,362 fans at Wrigley Field hoping to revel in a win to move the team's magic number to zero. But the clinching moment happened to be far more anticlimactic, coming when the St. Louis Cardinals lost, 6-2, to the San Francisco Giants just before midnight Thursday.
Players decided before the game to go home and not wait around for the Cardinals-Giants result in the event they didn’t beat Milwaukee. The celebration will now take place following Friday's day game against Milwaukee.
Early on, it looked like the Cubs would be able to get a party going and, when it would be time to party, party hard Thursday night. Manager Joe Maddon didn’t think his team, on the verge of clinching a division title, looked anxious coming into the evening.
“I’ll use the word eager,” Maddon said. “I think that’s a good word. I think that’s better than anxious. I thought we had a really good way about us today and again we made a couple mistakes that we normally don’t make, but it’s just going to happen.”
Jorge Soler smashed a two-run home run in the second inning, pausing a bit to admire his work as the ball whistled into the left field bleachers. But the Cubs weren’t able to cruise through the evening against their fourth-place divisional counterparts thanks to a rare error by shortstop Addison Russell, which sparked a fourth-inning Brewers rally.
With two out in the inning — and after Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton launched a solo home run to center — Russell, on a ground ball off the bat of third baseman Hernan Perez, threw up the line toward first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who couldn’t catch the ball. Perez reached, and Domingo Santana and Oswaldo Arcia followed with back-to-back doubles to bring home a pair of runs to put Milwaukee ahead.
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Montgomery, who struck out seven over six innings, thought he pitched well outside of the mistake that Arcia hit for that two-run double.
“I felt good,” Montgomery said. “I’d like to have that fourth inning back but I thought I made a lot of good pitches.”
But the Cubs quickly equalized thanks to an unlikely source in Montgomery. With two out and Jason Heyward on third, Montgomery grounded a fastball on the outer third of the plate into center for his first career hit and an RBI single.
Montgomery threw six innings, his highest total since being traded to the Cubs from the Seattle Mariners in July, and mixed his pitches well. His curveball, which Maddon described as a “premium” pitch was highly effective — Montgomery threw 28 curveballs, 22 of which were strikes, 17 of which swung at and eight of which generated swings and misses, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
“He threw the ball well,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “I think it was just one bad pitch, just one bad pitch — hit the double and scored the two runs, but other than that he threw the ball really well. He struck out seven guys and he was pretty good. He was sharp.”
Milwaukee re-took the lead in the top of the seventh when pinch-hitter Gennett flipped a double down the left field line to bring in a pair of runs off Cubs right-hander Justin Grimm.
The Cubs couldn’t mount a late comeback, though, despite Jason Heyward’s two-out RBI double off Brewers right-hander Tyler Thornburg in the eighth. With the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first, pinch-hitter Willson Contreras struck out looking on an inside curveball to end the inning.
Dexter Fowler struck out, Kris Bryant grounded out and after Rizzo walked, Ben Zobrist grounded out to end the game.
“We made a couple mistakes here and there and it cost up a couple runs,” Montero said. “I thought we played a good game and we just gotta come back tomorrow and finish them.”
Thanks to the Cardinals-Giants result, though, the Cubs no longer have any finishing to do in the NL Central.