By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Soaked in champagne and donning a towel around his neck, Joe Maddon swore he wasn’t overserved. After all, the Cubs skipper is more of a wine connoisseur, and a bottle of pinot noir waits in his office for special occasions.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Winter Weather Advisories In Effect; Snow Arrives For Monday Morning Commute
Saturday brought such an occasion, because the Cubs have clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. In his first year with the franchise, Maddon made magic happen for a young core.
“It’s a celebration of the season,” Maddon said.
Behind Maddon, the famed Wrigley Field scoreboard hoisted the blue “L” flag – the ugly stepsister of the “W” flag. The Cubs had been shut out by the Pirates, 4-0, and fell 5.5 games back for the top spot in the wild-card race. Francisco Liriano had just stifled Chicago’s bats, and Jason Hammel brought more questions for the rotation. But those are problems for later.
Late Friday night, San Francisco lost in Oakland, which clinched a postseason berth for the Cubs. This is a team that has partied after every win, but their biggest celebration came after a loss. It was a deserving day for the group that has Chicago poised for many more playoff appearances.
When the Cubs officially clinched Friday, Kris Bryant was asleep. Jake Arrieta and Dexter Fowler held a quiet, private toast. Maddon was watching “Jersey Boys” before going to sleep, when he checked his iPad for the news. They were in.
The celebration was on hold for Saturday – win or lose. Hey, after waiting years for this celebration, what’s another loss before popping bottles?
“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony Rizzo said.
Moments after the final out of Saturday’s loss, the Cubs’ clubhouse reeked of liquor and cigar smoke. The music was pumping, the disco ball lit and smoke machine on full blast. It was similar to their postgame parties for each of their 89 wins, but this one had different meaning.
“The Plan” that Theo Epstein brought to Chicago in 2011 had paid off, with a youth movement flourishing into a playoff team. After three years of losing and building, 2015 gave the Cubs what they had been waiting for. It was time to celebrate.
“Carpet is cheap,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “Go ahead, have a lot of fun, enjoy the season.”
Oh, boy, they enjoyed it. The clubhouse became a wrecking room of cheap champagne and below-average dance moves. That carpet will likely be ripped out before Sunday’s night game with the Pirates.READ MORE: 4 Dead, 23 Wounded In Weekend Shootings Across Chicago
One by one, the Cubs emerged from their clubhouse to the field. David Ross doused fans with champagne, while Miguel Montero offered a fan a chug. Chris Denorfia sprayed all in sight, media included (I learned that aviators aren’t very protective to champagne sprays). And Bryant – who stuck to branding with his customized Adidas goggles – smiled and took in the moment.
“F— yeah,” some players yelled to one another.
Fans still celebrating an hour after the game chanted “We are good! We are good!” A special season in Wrigleyville got quite the party.
Ricketts joined the fun with a league-issued postseason hat on backward, a beer in his hand and huge smile on his face. He sought out Maddon, the man who guided this core to a postseason berth. Maddon inherited what was built by Epstein and his baseball brass. Such a day wouldn’t have come if Ricketts didn’t give Epstein the power to build a winner from scratch. Everything came together for this day.
Overjoyed, Ricketts embraced Epstein, players and coaches, then he found Maddon.
“We did it,” Ricketts said to Maddon. “You’re incredible. We’re just getting rolling.”
Soon after, Ricketts was drenched in champagne by pitching coach Chris Bosio, then both were doused by Rizzo. Their patience had paid off.
Most of the Cubs had returned to the clubhouse as Maddon took in the moment with his family. Wrigley was filled with empty bottles of champagne, and a few fans remained, still chanting on.
We are good! We are good!
With a wave to the crowd, Maddon went down the dugout steps toward the clubhouse. The smell of booze and cigar smoke was overwhelming, and the music was thumping. Maddon went off the join his team in a celebration of this remarkable season.
The Cubs’ party may only be just beginning.MORE NEWS: Melissa Ortega, 8-Year-Old Girl Killed In Little Village Shooting, Had Just Emigrated From Mexico
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.