Cubs win first postseason series in 95 years

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 6, 2003

ATLANTA - The Chicago Cubs had just won their first postseason series in 95 years - and they were already getting cocky.


The champagne had barely left the bottle when Moises Alou started looking toward an even bigger celebration.

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''I know it's pretty huge,'' he said, savoring Chicago's 5-1 victory over Atlanta in Game 5 of the NL division series Sunday night. But when to Cubs go ''all the way, which we will, I can't wait to experience that feeling.''

Come on, let's savor this for a little while.

This was for Ron Santo and Ernie Banks, Haray Caray and Jack Brickhouse, the College of Coaches and the curse of the goat. The often-ridiculed, often-pitied Cubs had wiped away all the heartache with one magical evening.

Kerry Wood pitched another dominating game and Aramis Ramirez began the celebration with a mammoth home run, pushing Chicago past the Braves for the Cubbies' 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.

''Everybody now knows what a team we have,'' Alou said. ''There's no doubt in my mind we can't beat anybody.''

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. Sammy Sosa tore across the grass with his arm in the air, high-fiving his fellow outfielders.

In the stands, Chicago's fans shouted, hugged and derisively performed the ''Tomahawk Chop'' - the Braves' signature cheer. They also sang Caray's song, ''Take Me Out To The Ball Game.''

Back in Chicago, thousands of Cubs fans streamed into the streets surrounding Wrigley Field. The marquee 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.''

It was Baker, the first-year manager, who told the team on the first day of spring training to forget about the past.

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.

''This is 2003,'' Baker said. ''When the year started we just said, 'Hey, whatever happened in the past, you've got to leave it in the past.'''

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.

''With the team like we have, there's no way we should have lost like that,'' Lopez said. ''We all know they've got pretty good pitching but our offense, we should have done better than we did.''

A couple of former Pirates helped the Cubs break through. Kenny Lofton led off the game with a double and scored the first run. Ramirez put the Cubs up 4-0 with a two-run homer in the sixth - a 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 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.

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.

Once again, thousands of Cubs fans were on hand to cheer their team. The crowd of 54,357 was a Braves franchise record, eclipsing the turnout of 53,775 that watched Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth's homer record in 1974.

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 Alou golfed an RBI single to left.

Leading off the second, Alex Gonzalez drove a high fastball over the wall in center, 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, 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.

It didn't matter. Chipper Jones hit into an inning-ending double play. Not long after, the Cubs were celebrating.