Playoff-bound Chicago Cubs ready for 1st trip since 2008
CHICAGO (AP) Cubs manager Joe Maddon was watching the movie ''Jersey Boys,'' doing all he could not to check his iPad Friday night until about the final scene.
He couldn't help himself.
He saw that San Francisco was losing to Oakland in the ninth. When the Athletics closed out the victory, it clinched it for the Cubs. Chicago was headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
''I immediately texted Bob Melvin. I told him, `Thank you,'' he said Saturday about his Athletics' counterpart.
The Cubs could have clinched a playoff berth earlier Friday with a victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, except they lost 3-2. With an afternoon game on Saturday, some Cubs stayed up for the San Francisco-Oakland game. Others went to sleep.
Either way, they were planning to let loose after Saturday's game.
''We certainly have much bigger goals ahead,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ''It's a marathon. The goal of the marathon is to end up in the postseason and it's nice to be able to check that goal off the list. I think we'll have a lot of fun enjoying that moment because it is a big deal.''
The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and the road back to the postseason for the first time since 2008 was a difficult one. Chicago endured five straight losing seasons before this year and a top-to-bottom overhaul under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Hoyer.
But on Saturday, the Cubs were tipping their caps as fans roared following a pre-game video tribute.
''The feeling around Wrigleyville and in Chicago now is one that hasn't been here for a long time,'' said NL Cy Young Award candidate Jake Arrieta, who watched the San Francisco-Oakland game with Dexter Fowler. ''I'm just happy to be a part of it with these group of guys and the people, the fans, that are behind us.''
The Cubs began loading up the minor league system almost as soon as Epstein and Hoyer were hired in the fall of 2011, and it paid off in a big way.
Young players started to make their way to the majors last season. The Cubs then made it clear they were serious about winning when they hired Maddon and signed Lester in the offseason.
Besides those big additions, there were the arrivals of All-Star Kris Bryant, slugger Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell, who arrived from Oakland in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to the Athletics last season.
All three debuted this season. And all three made a big impact.
''We have full trust in, first of all, Mr. Ricketts (chairman Tom Ricketts) and his commitment to this team, commitment to this city,'' All-Star Anthony Rizzo said. ''Theo and Jed, what they've done. Obviously, when you lose 90 games, 100 games, it's not fun.''
They've been having a good time this season, and the fun goes beyond an 89-64 record that matched Kansas City's for third best in the majors entering Saturday's game.
Fun is something Maddon has stressed all year, along with celebrating success. The Cubs turn their clubhouse into a nightclub after victories, with a high-tech sound system and strobe lights.
They had a pajama party for a flight home. Maddon recently gave Pedro Strop a ''day at the beach'' with a chair, an ice bucket full of beer, a margarita and other beach paraphernalia in front of the reliever's locker.
On Tuesday, Maddon turned Wrigley Field into a zoo. A sloth, a penguin, a snow leopard and a flamingo as well as other animals from the zoo in Columbus, Ohio, were on display in the left-field corner, and the flamingo made an appearance at the manager's pre-game news conference. There was no Billy goat, but a day later, a cheetah named Bibi was at Wrigley.
''He's been awesome every step of the way,'' Russell said. ''From taking guys out to pinch-hitting guys, he's just been on the ball all season. There's not many times I can say he was wrong because he's right 99 percent of the time.''
Maddon talked about making the playoffs as soon as he was hired. And on Saturday, he talked about the championship drought.
''The drought is attractive,'' he said.
And if the Cubs end it, imagine the celebration in Chicago.