SAN FRANCISCO -- After each win this year, the Cubs celebrated. They danced and shouted and splashed each other with water 103 times during the regular season and two more times at Wrigley Field last weekend. But Tuesday night's party was different.The Cubs moved on to the National League Championship
SAN FRANCISCO -- After each win this year, the Cubs celebrated. They danced and shouted and splashed each other with water 103 times during the regular season and two more times at Wrigley Field last weekend. But Tuesday night's party was different.
The Cubs moved on to the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row -- the first time they've ever gone in back-to-back seasons -- by beating the Giants, 6-5, at AT&T Park. Then they retreated to the visitors' clubhouse, where the wild celebration surpassed any of their previous 105 victory parties. How?
"We got this and this," Jon Lester said, raising a Champagne bottle in his right hand and a beer bottle in his left. "The other ones, we got water."
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A victory in the NL Division Series was expected of the Cubs. They marched into the postseason as baseball's best team, no longer a surprising contender as they were a year ago. Even against an even-year Giants club, a defeat this early would have been disappointing -- and a return to Wrigley Field on Thursday would have been nerve-wracking.
The Cubs wanted to finish it Tuesday night, so they rallied in the ninth for four runs against five Giants relievers and watched Aroldis Chapman close it out. Then, for the 106th time this season, the celebration was on.
"It feels like this is what this team does. It's just going to be extended," Ben Zobrist said. "It's usually for like 10 minutes. Now it's going to be an hour, two hours, into tonight on the plane. That's a fun thing."
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As the Cubs went down in order in the eighth inning, manager Joe Maddon's mind wandered toward a potential Game 5 showdown between Lester and Johnny Cueto. He wanted no part of it, and his players could tell as much by his obvious relief after their dramatic comeback.
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"I did not want to see him in the fifth game. I don't care where it was being played," Maddon said. "I'm happy to not having to face him in a winner-take-all game. That was it. I'm being very honest."
That relief turned into joy as the Cubs turned the clubhouse into a makeshift party room, spraying beer and champagne until it dripped from the low ceilings above their covered lockers.
Outside, at least 100 fans wearing Cubs blue converged around the visitors' dugout, cheering for players as they drifted back onto the field. Maddon took in the scene wearing a black wetsuit, something straight out of a surf shop.
"I've never been a surfer," Maddon said. "One of the downsides of celebrating is cold water is cold. Champagne is cold. I'm a baby with that. I wanted to take some precautionary matters this time. It's helped somewhat. You still get nailed a little bit, but it helps."
Theo Epstein, the architect of this team, walked around the room in a T-shirt, Cubs gym shorts and sandals, dishing out high-fives and hugs and getting beer after beer poured onto his head as music pumped through the clubhouse and the garbage can filled up with empty bottles.
Yes, this party was different.
"A little more enthusiasm," Kris Bryant said, smiling. "I feel like this is after every win. … This time it's champagne. We're all getting wet today."
By the end of the week, the Cubs will have refocused. They'll begin the NLCS against the Dodgers or Nationals on Saturday (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on FS1), trying to push past the point where they plateaued last October. The pressure will only intensify, and the expectations will be no lower.
"We've got a lot to overcome in the postseason with the history of this franchise. It's a huge win," Zobrist said. "Going into the NLCS, we've got to prove we can do it in the NLCS. Last year, they didn't. This is a new group. We've got to get over that hump. That's the next goal, and we've got to find a way to do it."
The Cubs have bigger goals, certainly, and their ultimate prize lies eight wins away. But that wouldn't stop them from enjoying what they finished Tuesday night.
"Even when we expect to win, we still enjoy each 'W'. Why wouldn't you?" Lester said. "We're in the big leagues. We get to play a game. We get to throw champagne and beer around and act like idiots. It's all good."
Adam Berry has covered baseball for MLB.com since 2011.