ATLANTA (AP)—Sammy Sosa sprinted across the outfield, high-fiving his teammates along the way. Thousands of Cubs fans sang “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” over and over. Mike Remlinger strolled toward home plate—a beer in one hand, a cigar in the other—and simply shook his head in disbelief.
Ron Santo and Ernie Banks, College of Coaches and the curse of the goat, Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse—this one’s for you. In one magical evening, the Chicago Cubs ended 95 years of frustration.
Kerry Wood pitched another dominating game and Aramis Ramirez began the celebration with a mammoth home run, pushing the Cubs past Atlanta 5-1 in the decisive Game 5 Sunday night for their first postseason series victory since the 1908 World Series.
The Cubs—yes, the Cubs—move on to play Florida in the NL championship series. Game 1 is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.
“We heard a lot of negatives from people, and they have reason to be negative,” first-year manager Dusty Baker said. “They haven’t had any reasons to be positive for a long time.”
They do now. When Andruw Jones struck out swinging on the final pitch, flashbulbs went off around the stadium. Catcher Damian Miller threw his arms in the air, then charged the mound to embrace closer Joe Borowski. Sosa tore across the grass with his arm in the air. Wood, sitting in the dugout, pumped his fist before heading to the field to join the celebration.
In the stands, Chicago’s fans shouted, hugged and derisively performed the “Tomahawk Chop”—the Braves’ signature cheer.
Back in Chicago, thousands of Cubs fans streamed into the streets surrounding Wrigley Field when the game ended. Police had to shut down the streets surrounding the ballpark, and fans danced, cheered and hugged each other in an impromptu victory celebration.
The old, red marquee board outside the ballpark read simply, “Cubs Win!”
“I lived ‘til next year,” said an elated Norma Rolfsen of Chicago, a die-hard Cubs fan. “It’s here! It’s here! Thank God for Dusty Baker.”
The Braves suffered another heartbreaking loss in the postseason, going down for the second year in a row in Game 5 of the division series.
Twelve straight division titles have produced only one World Series championship, and the Braves face an uncertain future. Gary Sheffield, Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla are all in the last year of their contracts.
“We just didn’t make any adjustments,” Braves closer John Smoltz said. “They pitched the same way the whole series. But they dominated. It’s not like they were throwing slop up there.”
Tiger Woods walked beneath the stands wearing a replica of Smoltz’s No. 29 jersey. Tiger, if you’ve got a Monday tee time, Smoltzie is available.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Sosa, who endured a beaning, injured toe and that infamous corked bat in 2003. “For me and everything I’ve been through, it’s one of the great seasons that I’ve had.”
A couple of ex-Pirates helped the Cubs break through in the postseason. Kenny Lofton led off the game with a double and came around to score the first run. Ramirez put the Cubs up 4-0 with a two-run homer in the sixth—a massive, 439-foot shot over the center-field wall.
Braves pitcher Mike Hampton didn’t even turn around after Ramirez connected. With Wood on the mound, the Cubs could have popped the champagne right then and there.
Wood won for the second time in the best-of-five series with a performance that matched his effort in Game 1.
A disputed call by the umpires—is that becoming a theme of this postseason?—led to the only Atlanta run.
The big Texan went eight innings, giving up just five hits before giving way to Borowski, an ex-Brave who finished off Atlanta in the ninth.
The Braves were a dominant hitting team during the regular season, leading the NL in all major categories. But the lineup that produced six 20-homer players and four guys with 100 RBIs couldn’t do anything against Chicago’s young guns.
Twenty-three-year-old Mark Prior pitched a two-hitter in Game 3, a 3-1 victory for the Cubs. Wood, 26, gave up seven hits and three runs in 15 1-3 innings.
The grand total for Atlanta’s offense in those three games: four runs, 10 hits and 28 strikeouts.
“Their pitching is awful strong,” manager Bobby Cox said.
Once again, thousands of Cubs fans were on hand to cheer their beloved team, ignoring years of heartache to provide some Chicago hope. The crowd of 54,357 was a Braves franchise record, eclipsing the turnout of 53,775 that watched Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974.
For the Cubs, this all started on the first day of spring training.
Baker told the team in spring training to forget about the past—he was only worried about the future. The Cubs took his words to heart, winning a three-way battle with Houston and St. Louis in the NL Central, their first division title since 1989.
“I just prayed a lot and asked the Lord to change the mind-set of these players, of this organization,” Baker said. “Quite frankly, we didn’t think we were going to get it done this quickly.”
Just as they did in Game 2, the Cubs jumped on Hampton right away. Lofton lined his double off the right-field wall, Sosa walked and Moises Alou golfed a single to left, scoring Lofton.
Leading off the second, Alex Gonzalez drove a high fastball over the wall in center for a 415-foot homer, pushing the Cubs ahead 2-0.
Gonzalez didn’t even start Game 2 because of his career record against Hampton: seven at-bats, one hit.
The Braves’ lone run was a gift. With two on and no outs, Gary Sheffield sent a liner to center and Rafael Furcal ran as soon as the ball was hit. Lofton slid for the ball and came up with it in his glove—and TV replays clearly showed he made the catch.
Furcal had already touched home at that point, but Marcus Giles turned back to first—apparently thinking the catch was made. After conferring the umpires ruled Giles was out on a force at second, while allowing Furcal to score and Sheffield to stay at first.
The Cubs added an unearned run off Will Cunnane in the ninth.
For the eighth time in franchise history, the Braves played a decisive postseason game. They were 4-3 in previous Game 7s or Game 5s. … Sheffield had another miserable postseason. He went 2-for-14 against the Cubs after going 1-of-16 in a five-game loss to San Francisco last year. … Former President Jimmy Carter, an avid Braves fan, sat in the box next to the Atlanta dugout. … Woods, who has played golf with Smoltz, attended the game after winning theAmerican Express Championship in suburban Atlanta.