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Wrigley has a winner

By Associated Press
Published September 28, 2003

CHICAGO - The taste of victory was so sweet Sammy Sosa wanted to share it with his loyal followers in the rightfield bleachers.

So, he sprayed them with celebratory champagne.

Many of his Cubs teammates jogged around the perimeter of the outfield, followed by manager Dusty Baker, saluting the fans and soaking up the delirious atmosphere at Wrigley Field.

"It's beautiful," Sosa said after his 40th homer helped the Cubs sweep a doubleheader from the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 and 7-2 Saturday and win the NL Central.

The Cubs, 67-95 a year ago, meet Atlanta in the first round.

"The city of Chicago has been yearning for this and it's awesome," centerfielder Kenny Lofton said. "We're in the playoffs and that's a start. The fans haven't seen it in a while."

Baker's mission when he arrived as manager in November was to change the Cubs, convert them from years of losing.

"I just said, "Why not us?"' Baker said. "This is only the first step in a four-step process. We've got three steps to climb and this club is willing and ready."

Sosa homered in the first and Matt Clement pitched 72/3 strong innings as the Cubs earned their first division championship since Don Zimmer led them to the East crown in 1989.

They are 19-7 in September.

The victory touched off a raucous celebration at Wrigley Field where 40,121 fans, many wearing coats on a 60-degree day, began to chant "Let's Go Cubs" in the seventh.

"Next Year Is Here," read one sign from a fan. "Oh, Joy," another read.

Fans stayed in their seats for more than an hour after the game as players in championship T-shirts and caps mingled on the field.

"They have been supporting us the whole year," Sosa said. "This is the year. We are going to surprise a lot of people."

Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon saluted the Cubs.

"They had a remarkable second-half run. I wanted my young guys to see this tonight, this celebration, to see what they're playing for," he said.

The Cubs are in the postseason for the first time since 1998 when they beat Baker and the Giants in a one-game playoff for the wild card.

Thanks to a Friday rainout, the Wrigley fans got to see two memorable victories on the same afternoon.

In the opener, Mark Prior pitched 62/3 impressive innings and Damian Miller homered.

The Cubs moved quickly to wrap it up.

Sosa became the first NL player to reach 40 homers six straight times with a 450-foot blast in the first off Ryan Vogelsong in the nightcap.

Chicago added five in the second, highlighted by Mark Grudzielanek's two-run, bases-loaded single. Moises Alou homered later.

Clement did the rest, allowing seven hits. He lost his shutout when Abraham Nunez hit a run-scoring triple and scored on a passed ball in the eighth.

[Last modified September 28, 2003, 01:49:44]


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