Cards rally to clinch playoff berth, sweep Cubs

September 23rd, 2019

CHICAGO -- Champagne glasses and bottles lined the table in the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field, remnants of a toast to celebrate a 3-2 victory against the Cubs on Sunday afternoon -- a victory that clinched the Cardinals’ first postseason berth since 2015.

But the clubhouse wasn’t covered in champagne, and the players weren’t doused either. The mood was light and filled with excitement, but the players rushed to pack their bags and make the flight that would take them to Arizona.

This much was clear after the Cardinals clinched a minimum of a National League Wild Card spot: There is more work to be done.

“We want to make sure we appreciate what we’ve accomplished and not take it lightly,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’re in the postseason. But we’ve got our sights set on clinching this division. That’s where our head’s at. We had a nice toast about it, felt good about it and now we move forward.”

The Cardinals are back in October after winning a series against the Nationals and sweeping the Cubs in four games. The last time the Cardinals finished a four-game sweep at Wrigley Field was in May 1921. This time, they also eliminated the Cubs from NL Central contention while staying three games ahead of the second-place Brewers.

“I said something to someone a couple of days ago about how our last two weeks are against teams who are fighting to get to the playoffs,” Sunday’s starter said. “Great teams. I think that’s great for us. It’s going to keep us sharp and going to keep us in competitive games. Nobody we’re playing is out there rolling over and giving us the game, so we’re going to be fighting all the way in September and October.”

The Cardinals fought back in every game this series, winning four one-run games and rallying late. On Sunday, Mikolas and Yu Darvish dueled on the mound, with Mikolas limiting the Cubs to two runs (one earned) in 7 2/3 innings. Except for Paul DeJong’s home run in the third inning, the Cardinals mustered just three hits off Darvish until the ninth inning.

José Martínez started the rally with a pinch-hit leadoff triple, and Dexter Fowler’s sacrifice fly scored pinch-runner Tyler O’Neill. Tommy Edman followed with a single, stole second and scored on ’s double. Then worked the bottom of the ninth to protect the lead and lock down his sixth save of the season.

“There’s something about playing in places like this that’s special,” Miller said. “We’re playing well, all those crazy games, coming back. José hitting the triple. You’re afraid to lose because Miles pitched so well today. Pauly’s homer early in the game. It was a fun nine innings to play and certainly a fun series for us.”

It’s been a fun second half for the Cardinals, who have the best record (45-23) in the National League since the All-Star break. Shildt often praises the Cardinals for getting better as the game progresses, but they have also gotten better as the season progressed. They were 31-31 the last time they left Wrigley Field back in early June, when they were the ones swept. They’ve gone 58-36 since.

Now they’re hoping that translates into October.

“You can’t deny that we’ve played better this second half than we did the whole first half,” Goldschmidt said. “There’s been some ups and downs, but hopefully it’ll continue for the rest of this season and into the postseason. You never know what the future holds. We’ve done a good job of not looking too far ahead, whether we were getting swept or winning series. Just try to take it game by game.”

What’s next for the Cardinals? Their magic number is four, and they can clinch the division as early as Wednesday in Arizona. The division title has always been the goal for the Cardinals. And if they achieve that, they’ll need some plastic tarps to protect the clubhouse.

“Playoff berth is great, a Wild Card is awesome, but we want the division,” Mikolas said. “That’s what we’re going to go get.”