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    Who'll stop the reign?
    Cards' delayed celebration shows how far away the Cubs are

    September 16, 2005

    The only thing worse than watching another team clinch a division title at your ballpark is knowing that another team declined to celebrate after clinching a division title at your ballpark.

    Add that to the list of low points for the Cubs this season. By virtue of their 6-1, rain-shortened victory over the Cubs and the Phillies' 6-4 loss to Atlanta on Thursday night, the Cardinals won the National League Central title via a tiebreaker.

    But a division championship wasn't official in Tony La Russa's mind unless Houston lost and the Cardinals' magic number was down to zero. The Astros didn't cooperate, beating Florida 4-1 and keeping the magic number at one. Never mind that the Astros no longer mattered in the division title scenario. They mattered to La Russa, who is both manager and social chairman.

    Can you imagine the Cubs ever turning down a chance to celebrate anything? When they clinched a wild-card playoff berth in 1998, you would have thought they had just won the World Series and saved the whales. The Cubs would celebrate Ron Santo's half-birthday every year if they thought they could.

    And here were the Cardinals, turning down an invitation to party. It's sort of galling. The Cubs play this badly all season, and here's their nemesis trying to pick the exact right moment to uncork the bubbly. This must be what if feels like to be toyed with.

    "It just doesn't seem right to celebrate when your magic number's one," La Russa said. "You're watching the number, and it goes 10, nine, eight, seven . . . and it gets to one and you're going to celebrate? No, zero is when you celebrate."

    That's one of the differences between the Cubs and the Cardinals, one of many differences. The Cardinals have done this so often that they can wait for the right conditions, like NASA waiting for the right weather conditions for a shuttle launch. La Russa pulled the same thing last year.

    The truth is the Cubs are 21 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the standings and not even that close by any other measure. The Cardinals have won or shared the division title five of the last six years. It will take a miracle and money for the Cubs to change that trend next season. Mostly a miracle.

    The Cardinals have done it with a focus and a determination that has been lacking in the Cubs. St. Louis won the division in 2002 despite the death of pitcher Darryl Kile in a Chicago hotel room. The Cubs fell apart last season while bickering with the team's TV announcers. There's not much else you need to know about the two organizations.

    This season, the chances of the Cardinals losing their concentration with such a big division lead were nonexistent. They're too professional for that.

    "We've been really concerned the whole second half that a stretch of bad play was right in front of us," La Russa said. "I think that concerned us and kept us pushing. We've been able to avoid it."

    There's a team from the South Side that, at one point this season, had a better record than the Cardinals. But that team, the White Sox, has not been able to avoid a bad stretch. No, that team careened into a bad stretch or two. That team seems to be looking for ditches to drive into. That team seems to be finding them on a daily basis.

    The Cardinals lost in four games to Boston in the World Series last season, and even though they might have been forgiven for approaching another division title this season with a certain matter-of-factness, they didn't.

    "I was taught and I think I've learned over the years that there's two distinct challenges for a club," La Russa said. "The first is the regular-season, six-month grind. So if you happen to win your division, I think it's the hardest thing to do because it's the longest and it requires the most commitment not just your team, but the organization."

    The second part of that, the playoffs and the chance for a World Series title, is the most important part. But La Russa knows that celebrating the long, hard part of the journey is important too.

    And that's why the Cardinals' clubhouse will be covered with protective plastic soon and why grown men will douse each other with sticky beverages. There's nothing like the smell of stale champagne on old rug. Not that anyone around here would know.

    The Cardinals were leading the Cubs 6-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Thursday when great squalls of rain strafed Wrigley. First the game was delayed, and then it was called for good.

    Jeff Suppan shut down the Cubs over eight innings and seemed to be in the mood to party afterward. But the team already had decided otherwise.

    It must be nice to have choices. [/b][/quote]
    Official sponsor of Mike Shannon's Retirement Party

  • #2
    At least there's one Chicago media member who doesn't have their head up the Cubs ass.

    PS: Don't be surpised if this guy gets the same treatment as Chip Caray and Steve Stone.
    Make America Great For Once.


    • #3
      There's nothing like the smell of stale champagne on old rug. Not that anyone around here would know.[/b][/quote]

      My favorite line
      Official sponsor of Mike Shannon's Retirement Party