Alfonso Soriano of the Chicago Cubs hits a three-run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
I like good, down-to-the-last-day pennant races; earlier this month it didn't look like we'd have any, but some good runs by teams like the Giants and Rays helped baseball go into the final week of the season with the wild cards still in doubt.
At the same time, I'm always happy to see the Cardinals eliminated from postseason play, and it's even better when the Cubs do it. Friday night brought the bizarre sight of a full house at Miller Park in Milwaukee cheering loudly for the Cubs when the Cubs weren't even playing there.
The Brewers defeated the Marlins in Milwaukee in a game that ended about 9:40 p.m., clinching a tie for the division title for the Brewers. At the time, the Cubs and Cardinals were still locked in a 1-1 tie, but very shortly thereafter, Alfonso Soriano smacked a three-run homer off Kyle McClellan. If the roof hadn't been closed at Miller Park you might have been able to hear the cheering all the way to St. Louis.
The Cubs added a run in the ninth inning and defeated the Cardinals 5-1; that made the Brewers NL Central champions, only the second division title in their history and first as an NL team. I'm not fond of the Brewers and their antics, but congratulations to them. They earned it; now they'll await their first-round playoff opponent. They currently lead the Diamondbacks by one game in the overall standings; if it finishes that way and the Braves win the wild card, Milwaukee will play Atlanta. If Arizona passes them, the Brewers play the Phillies; if, somehow, the Cardinals or Giants pass up the Braves (even more unlikely after both of them lost Friday night), the Brewers and Diamondbacks would meet up.
Further congratulations are due Starlin Castro, who took all the suspense out of waiting for him to reach the 200-hit milestone by hitting Chris Carpenter's second pitch in the first inning for a single. It is the 21st 200-hit season in Cubs history; it's been done by 17 different players (Billy Herman did it three times; Kiki Cuyler twice). Castro, at 21, is the youngest to do so and, hopefully, it is the first of many for him. He singled again in the ninth inning to drive in the Cubs' fifth and final run. With five games remaining in the season, he has a chance to move up several spots on the team all-time list. At 201, he is currently tied with Charlie Hollocher (1922), Billy Williams (1964) and Bill Buckner (1982).
Kudos also to Ryan Dempster, who finally had a good game against the Cardinals this season after two bad starts earlier in the year. He gave up just one run in six innings, even while struggling with command (six walks). That leaves Dempster just 3.1 innings short of the precious 200-inning milestone that Mike Quade rejiggered his entire rotation for. Dempster will start the final game of the season Wednesday in San Diego.
By then we will have actually seen Steve Clevenger start a game. Len Kasper mentioned on the telecast that Clevenger is likely to start Monday's game in San Diego, with Geovany Soto starting the rest of the way. So -- for those of you who have been on Koyie Hill's case all year, you have probably seen the last of him in a Cubs uniform.
The Cubs will have a rare opportunity the rest of the weekend. The Cardinals' elimination number from the wild card race is three; if the Cubs can beat St. Louis twice while the Braves win once (or one Cubs win and two Atlanta victories), the Cubs will have helped eliminate St. Louis from two playoff races in one weekend. Good times.
They'll play again early this afternoon. The game preview will post at 10:45 a.m. CDT.