Having perspective and taking the long view have served the Chicago Cubs well all season long.
In fact, those qualities have served them well since Joe Maddon took over as manager before the 2015 season.
The Cubs got their first major reward of the 2018 season Wednesday night when they clinched a postseason berth with a 7-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.
Albert Almora Jr.’s two-out single in the 10th inning scored pinch runner Terrance Gore with the winning run.
The Milwaukee Brewers also are in. They defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1. The Cubs let a 6-1 lead slip away, with the Pittsburgh Pirates tying the game at 6-6 in the ninth.
The National League Central title is still in play between the Cubs (92-66) and Brewers (92-67), but the Cubs will be playing postseason baseball for the fourth consecutive season, a franchise record. The Cubs’ magic number for clinching the division went from 5 to 4.
But first things first, the Cubs are in.
“I didn’t even know that,” said Maddon, who heard it from the media-relations staff. “You’re so locked in to what’s going on out there. We played such a good game for the first half. In the second half, we obviously let them back in. When you win a tough game like that, you’ve got to give your guys a lot of credit for sticking around and not folding the tents after they (Pirates) did come back like they did.
“If you qualify for the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, I think for Chicago Cub fans, you should be pretty happy about that.”
Almora didn’t go into the game until the eighth inning, but the mindset with the Cubs has been anybody at anytime.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” he said. “I don’t think anybody doubted this team when they tied the game 6-6. We just knew we were going to have to walk it off. Everybody was super into it. Everybody was locked in. We were cheering everybody on.
“I remember at one point in my at-bat, my second strike, I looked in (to the dugout), everybody was top step, watching me. That means a lot.”
The Cubs celebrated hard on the field, but there was no champagne in the clubhouse.
“We’re not taking this for granted,” Almora said. “We’re super pumped that we’re in the playoffs, but our job’s not done. We want to take this division and move forward with the best record in the NL, have homefield advantage and stay home for the most we can.”
The Cubs and starting pitcher Jose Quintana fell behind 1-0 in the first when Jose Osuna hit a two-out home run. Quintana pitched 5 innings and gave up 4 hits and 2 runs.
Jason Heyward hit a 2-run opposite-field homer to left-center in the bottom of the first, and the Cubs put across 2-spots in both the third and fourth innings against Pirates starter Ivan Nova.
Despite losing the first two games of this series, there didn’t seem to be any panic among the Cubs.
“The guys have been great, honestly,” Maddon said. “We’ve had two tough days, we have agreed. But from our overall perspective, the success we’ve had the last four years in a row has been pretty darn good. Now we still have very high aims for this particular season. I’m fine with high expectations. I’m fine with pressure.”
Team leader Anthony Rizzo also noted the accomplishment.
“It’s a good one,” he said. “You look at every year. It’s definitely been different, every different scenario that we’ve gone through. It’s the goal at the beginning of spring training every year, to make the postseason. The No. 1 goal is to win the division.”
Rizzo was involved in one strange play in the top of the ninth. With one out and a man on first, he reached around the protective netting near the first-base dugout to field a popup by Francisco Cervelli.
He thought he came away with the ball, but it came out of his glove. It looked like a fan got in the way (serving up memories of Game 6 of the 2003 NL championship series in left field), but Rizzo wasn’t going there, even after Cervelli doubled and the Pirates eventually tied it.
“I thought I caught it; it was just one of those weird plays,” he said. “It was a big win for us today. That’s all I’m really worried about, is us getting the win after giving up the lead there. It’s a nice win.”