Joe Maddon established the freewheeling atmosphere around this team during his first press conference at The Cubby Bear, a Wrigleyville bar opposite the iconic marquee. The shot-and-a-beer manager offered to buy the first round last November.
Almost 11 months later, the Cubs are on the verge of clinching the playoff spot Maddon talked about during his media blitz. A team that already leads the league in zoo animals had its magic number move to two even with Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.
But it’s only a matter of time — a combination of Cubs’ wins and San Francisco Giants’ losses — even if Maddon said during his pregame media session that he didn’t know the magic number at that point.
Publicly, Maddon doesn’t want to give up the long-shot hopes of catching the St. Louis Cardinals, though the Cubs are seven games back in the National League Central with an elimination number of four.
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And the Cubs still want to chase down the Pittsburgh Pirates for home-field advantage in the wild-card game. It will be another huge series this weekend at Wrigley Field, with the Pirates lining up Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett.
But that doesn’t mean the Cubs will act like they’ve been there before or downplay the celebration once they clinch the second wild-card spot.
“As big as it could possibly be,” Maddon said. “You celebrate achievement all the time. So I love the fact that we celebrate every night. It has this bonding effect among the group. And then when you go beyond that, celebrate just a little bit harder.”
The Cubs already blow it out after every win, chanting and dancing to loud music. There’s a fog machine and DJ lighting in the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field.
“It could go longer,” Maddon said. “We have like constraints in a sense. We got to get home. We got a game the next day.”
“I don’t know how much bigger it can get,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “But I guess there’s always room for improvement in anything.”
With 89 wins and the third-best record in the majors, the Cubs aren’t going to change now.
“Listen, the word ‘party’ has taken on a negative connotation in our country these days,” Maddon said. “It’s really bumming me out. There’s nothing wrong with having a good party.
“So if you have an opportunity to have a good party, go out and have one. All right? It’s OK to have a good time.”