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Despite loss, Cubs gain wild-card playoff with Giants
Posted: Sunday September 27, 1998 08:58 PM
HOUSTON (AP) -- The Chicago Cubs walked off the Astrodome field Sunday with their heads down, stunned by an 11th-inning defeat and wondering whether their season was over.
Then they reached the clubhouse and began to celebrate.
"This," shortstop Jeff Blauser said, "has been a wild season for the Cubs."
Moments after a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros, the Cubs learned they were still alive in the NL wild-card race, thanks to San Francisco's 9-8 defeat at Colorado. The score in Denver couldn't have bolstered the Cubs' mood more if it had been announced by Harry Caray himself, because it means a one-game playoff with the Giants.
"I'm halfway up the stairs coming to the clubhouse, and people were in here celebrating," closer Rod Beck said. "I knew it wasn't because we did good. People were jumping up and down shouting, `There's a tomorrow! There's a tomorrow!'"
Two hesitant defensive plays nearly eliminated the Cubs, who blew a 3-1 lead and failed to score an earned run in 11 innings. But they're still alive.
"Maybe somebody is looking out for us," Blauser mused. "What would somebody with a death-row reprieve say? Whoopee. We've got another chance."
The Cubs and Giants will meet Monday night at Wrigley Field, with the winner earning a playoff berth against the Atlanta Braves.
All three wild-card contenders lost Sunday. The New York Mets were eliminated at Atlanta.
With a victory, the long-suffering Cubs would have clinched their first playoff appearance since 1989. But Houston's Carl Everett tripled leading off the 11th when a retreating Sammy Sosa shied away from the ball as he reached the warning track, and Richard Hidalgo's sacrifice fly gave the Astros the win.
The Giants and Cubs will meet in the NL's first one-game playoff since 1980, when Houston beat Los Angeles to win the West. In 1995, Seattle defeated the Angels in a one-game playoff for the AL West title.
Sosa's season overshadows the Cubs' success no longer.
"On Monday we'll have everyone in the stands rooting not only for Sammy, but for us, too," pitcher Terry Mulholland said.
While the drama built in the playoff race, there was no split-screen finish in the home-run chase. Sosa remained at 66, while Mark McGwire hit two in his final game Sunday at St. Louis to finish with 70.
"I'm real happy for him because, hey, he's the man," Sosa said. "I'm not thinking about home runs. I have to sacrifice myself for the team."
Any homers hit by Sosa on Monday would count in his final total. Even if he remains at 66, he expects to go down in history.
"When they mention McGwire, they're going to mention me," he said.
Sosa singled home Chicago's first run Sunday for his 158th RBI, fourth-best in NL history. He also struck out, flied out twice and singled in the eighth, finishing 2-for-5.
Scott Elarton (2-1) pitched two perfect innings. Beck (3-4) went the final 2 2-3 innings his longest outing of the season but said he'll be available Monday. Steve Trachsel (14-8) will start for the Cubs, who remain alive despite losing six of their past eight games.
"There won't be any more scoreboard watching," Beck said. "Now it's up to us what we do."
The NL Central champion Astros played the role of spoilers well, winning for the 27th time in their final at-bat.
"You don't want anybody to win in your own park," said starting pitcher Mike Hampton, who held the Cubs to three unearned runs in six innings. "We didn't want to see them celebrate here. Plus we wanted to go into the playoffs coming off a win."
Randy Johnson will take the mound for the Astros when they face San Diego beginning Tuesday at Houston in the first round of the playoffs.
The Cubs were on the verge of postseason play until they squandered a 3-1 lead in the eighth. Jeff Bagwell tied the game by scoring from first base on Sean Berry's looping single, which dropped among three Cubs. Blauser caught the ball on one hop in shallow left but made a wild throw home.
Now the drama switches to Wrigley Field.
"One more day to put on the hard hat, get out the lunch pail and clock in," Cubs first baseman Mark Grace said. "I'm excited. I wish we could play right now."
Notes:@ Following the Cubs' victory Saturday, Sosa went to the Dominican consulate and loaded trucks with goods donated for the hurricane relief effort in his homeland. ... The only hitters ahead of Sosa on the NL's list of single-season RBI leaders are the Cubs' Hack Wilson, who had 190 in 1930 and 159 in 1929, and Philadelphia's Chuck Klein, who had 170 in 1930. ... Moises Alou led Houston with 38 homers but didn't hit one in his final 100 at-bats. ... The Astros finished first in the NL in runs and second in ERA. ... Despite Sosa's contribution, the Cubs finished just sixth in the major leagues in home runs. ... Sosa batted cleanup for the 38th time. He batted third 120 times.
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