Cubs celebrate first NL Central title in 8 years

By Jay Cohen - AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — David Ross was on his way home when the Chicago Cubs clinched the NL Central, so he ducked into a bar on Sheffield Avenue for a drink. Ross, who plans to retire after this year, wanted to celebrate his last division title.

The bartender recognized the backup catcher and bought him a shot of Jameson. The party is definitely on in Chicago.

Ross and his teammates returned to Wrigley Field on Friday for the first time since St. Louis lost at San Francisco late Thursday, handing the NL Central over to the Cubs for the first time since 2008. The Cubs wasted a chance to clinch the division in front of their fans when they lost 5-4 to the Milwaukee Brewers, but they planned to celebrate after the second game of the series.

“You’d rather celebrate on the field and all that, but it doesn’t really matter,” Ross said. “The key is getting in. You know, this is one of our goals and steps to a bigger goal and so, hopefully there’s a lot more partying to go on, especially here at Wrigley. But we’re going to enjoy this and we’ll enjoy ourselves tonight. Don’t worry about that.”

The Cubs showed a highlight video before Friday’s game against Milwaukee, and then the players and coaches took the field to wave their caps to the cheering crowd. Several fans used their phones to take pictures of the scene.

The division had seemed like a foregone conclusion since Chicago got off to a 25-6 start, serving notice that all the preseason hype was justified. Led by MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and a ridiculously deep pitching staff, the Cubs began the day with the best record in baseball at 93-53.

It is 108 years and counting since Chicago last won the World Series in 1908, a drought the Cubs hope to end this year. But in the meantime, they weren’t taking the NL Central title for granted.

“Winning your division, that’s a highlight,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s always a highlight. Being able to avoid a wild-card game … you really want to avoid that if you possibly can.”

Chicago beat Pittsburgh in the wild-card game a year ago, and then eliminated St. Louis before it was swept by the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series. The Cubs had to wait until Sept. 25 to clinch their 2015 postseason spot, and that also was via a loss by another contender.

This time around, Chicago is into the playoffs with a couple weeks to spare. It is still hoping for home-field advantage throughout the NL postseason, but clinching the division so early gives Maddon plenty of time to rest some position players and take care of his pitching staff.

“Now we have this opportunity to plan it out, slowly, really try to make some intelligent decisions while we’re still playing the same game with the same kind of intensity,” Maddon said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”

Most of Chicago’s regulars were out of the lineup for the Friday afternoon start, and Maddon said he planned to wait until Saturday for more in-depth discussions with his coaching staff about their plans for the rest of the regular season. For now, the Cubs were ready to party.

“It’s exciting,” Ross said. “Winning the division is pretty cool and you know a rare treat. I think we’ve seen this coming for a while now, but it’s nice to have that finally in the books.”


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By Jay Cohen

AP Sports Writer