NL Central champion Cubs rest, beat Reds 4-0 behind Rich Hill and the reserves
Hill allowed only one hit over six innings—a suitable tuneup for the playoffs—and Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno hit solo homers Saturday, leading the NL Central champions to a 4-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
With their regulars resting after a late-night champagne party, the Cubs were just trying to get through a game. They came within one hit of making history.
Hill (11-8) gave up Buck Coats’ two-out double in the sixth—Cincinnati’s only hit of the game—then left for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning. The left-hander had his way with a lineup that took a get-it-over-with approach.
The Cubs weren’t trying all that hard to win.
“It doesn’t really mean anything right now except an extra at-bat or two,” manager Lou Piniella said. “I think it’s more important to rest them than to play them.”
The Reds lost for the 90th time even though top starter Aaron Harang (16-6) was facing a lineup missing most of its regulars. Cincinnati has dropped a season-high seven in a row.
A day after clinching with a 6-0 victory in front of thousands of raucous Chicago fans on Friday night, the Cubs got a championship tribute on the road.
Most of the 38,936 fans wore blue and rooted for the visiting team. Cubs signs filled every nook of the ballpark. A banner hanging from the upper deck boasted: “Cubs NL Central Champ.” The players got a prolonged standing ovation when they took the field for the first time.
Shocking? Not at all. Traveling Cubs fans have made the National League feel like the ivy league this season—Chicago is its biggest draw on the road.
“Awesome,” Hill said. “Unbelievable. I went out to warm up and all the Cubs fans stood up and cheered. It was pretty special—especially here in Cincinnati, where there’s 30,000 Cubs fans and you’re on the road.”
This ready-to-party crowd was rewarded with a couple of keepsakes and Chicago’s 85th win.
A man wearing a blue shirt caught Murton’s homer to center field in the first inning off Harang, who got the loss despite striking out a career-high 13 in eight innings. Another Cubs fan came up with Cedeno’s shot to left field leading off the second.
Usually, homers by opposing teams get thrown back onto the field at Great American Ball Park, a sign of rejection. These stayed in the stands.
“You try to go out and do the best you can,” Harang said. “We didn’t get the breaks. You didn’t expect Hill to throw a no-hitter.”
With every breath, the Cubs were reminded of their first division title in four years.
The clubhouse where they giddily sprayed 30 cases of champagne on Friday night smelled like a saloon—the whiff of winning. It was a familiar fragrance to Alfonso Soriano, who has led the way with 13 homers in September.
“It reminds me a lot of when I played with the Yankees,” said Soriano, who got a day off to decompress. “It’s like a dream come true. When I signed in November, I picked this team just for celebrations and playoffs. I’m very happy with what happened last night.”
This game was an afterthought.
The team bus left the hotel for the ballpark less than two hours before the first pitch. The Cubs initially planned to bring Hill in during the middle of the game to go a few innings, but changed their minds when the left-hander said he’d rather go through his normal starting routine.
“I’m glad he wanted to start,” Piniella said.
Didn’t matter much who was pitching. After four months of struggling to overcome an 8 1/2 -game deficit, the Cubs were ready to kick back.
Atop reliever Sean Gallagher’s locker was an empty bottle of California champagne, a keepsake from the previous night. The recessed light fixtures in the clubhouse were pockmarked with sticky drops of dried champagne, adding to the championship ambiance.
“God, it stinks!” reliever Will Ohman said.
He meant that appreciatively, of course.
In the manager’s office, Piniella and general manager Jim Hendry met privately before the game to discuss the postseason roster. The Cubs will wait to see who they play in the first round before making decisions.
“We’re just glad to be here,” Hendry said.
The Reds are just glad it’s almost over.
Like the Cubs, they opened the season thinking they could compete in baseball’s weakest division. Like the Cubs, they fell behind early. Unlike the Cubs, they never recovered, tumbling to their seventh straight losing season— their longest such slump in half a century.
The Cubs are the first team in the NL Central to go from last to first in consecutive seasons. The last NL team to pull off the feat was Arizona in 1999. … Reds CF Norris Hopper left the game with a strained groin after the first inning, when he couldn’t catch up to Geovany Soto’s double, the first of his three hits. … The Reds are 38-42 at Great American Ball Park. … Harang’s 218 strikeouts this season are a career high.