CHICAGO — Shortly after a toast that was almost as brief as a champagne’s pop, Paul Goldschmidt trotted out of the Cardinals’ clubhouse, away from the available but mostly untouched bottles for celebration, and down the stairs back toward the dugout.
He had just delivered the dramatic game-winning double in the ninth inning that upended the Cubs, secured the Cardinals their first playoff berth since 2015 and completed a sweep the likes of which Wrigley Field had not seen in 98 years. There was more work to do. The Cardinals’ first baseman likes to get an extensive workout once a series and Sunday, postgame, was his last chance to do so. He had a total body regimen planned and about 25 minutes to do it. The only thing clutch about it was his hands around a weight. Given what had just happened, what the Cardinals had just done, Goldschmidt’s commitment seemed remarkably ordinary.
“I like that,” he agreed. “There’s another game tomorrow.”
During the most successful weekend ever for the Cardinals in a century of visiting Wrigley, they made the remarkable look routine.
Down to their final three outs Sunday, the Cardinals flipped a one-run deficit into a 3-2 victory to complete their first four-game series sweep at Wrigley since 1921. Jose Martinez’s pinch-hit triple opened the ninth, Dexter Fowler’s sacrifice fly tied the game, and Goldschmidt’s one-out lash down the third-base line scored Tommy Edman for the winner.
For the second time in as many days, the Cardinals scored the tying and winning runs in the top of the ninth. Three of the wins came in their final at-bats, and all four were by one run.
In a four-game span the Cardinals (89-67) went from holding a narrow lead on the Cubs (82-74) in their division to erasing the Cubs from contention for the NL Central title. The win Sunday assured the Cardinals of, at worst, a wild-card berth in the postseason.
The Cardinals reached the postseason for the 29th time in the past 94 seasons. Their reaction was subdued. They were handed red T-shirts that read, “Let’s Get Wild,” all while thinking, “Let’s not settle.” The celebratory toast was so short that John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, arrived late for it after swimming his way through the crowd to reach the clubhouse. Goldschmidt returned from his workout to find eight bottles of champagne on a table in the clubhouse.
Three were open but full.
A fourth had one swig taken from it.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry and bigger dreams to make happen,” starting pitcher Miles Mikolas said. “Playoff berth is great. Wild card is awesome. We want the division. That’s what we’re going to go get.”
The win cut the Cardinals’ magic number to four. Any combination of four wins in their final six games or four losses by the Brewers (86-70) and the Cardinals are division champs for the first time since 2015.
The Cubs started the series with a chance for a hostile takeover of standings. For four days, no matter what they tried — perpetual pitching changes, surprise returns from injuries, jumping jacks at second base or twirling Yu Darvish — all they got was an eyeful of the many ways the Cardinals could beat them.
Matt Carpenter came off the bench to hit the winning homer Thursday. Walks ignited the winning rally Friday. Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina homered on consecutive pitches in the ninth Saturday to win. When they struggled to score, the Cardinals relied on the backbone of their contention, defense and pitching. They turned seven double plays in the final two games, including three in the first four innings of Mikolas’ start Sunday.
“I think we have to win that way,” Goldschmidt said. “It doesn’t look like we have one way that we can win every game, or that we have to do it this way. It’s going to take an effort from every guy on the roster. That is something we’ve talked about. It doesn’t have to be home runs. It doesn’t have to be bunts. It doesn’t have to be pitching. Just each day whatever it’s going to take, just try to keep going until the last out is made and see what happens.”
With portions of the game played in the rain, the teams were racing the storms as well as chasing the wind. A day after gusts lead to a wild, high-scoring exchange, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead on a passed ball in the first inning before an exchange of homers gave them the 2-1 lead after six. DeJong tied the game with a blast over the bleachers to tie the game in the third. Nicholas Castellanos, the Cubs’ prized acquisition at the trade deadline, hit his 16th homer since July 31st to reclaim the lead.
The whole time, as he pitched into the eighth, Mikolas felt how the “wind blowing out keeps that voice in the back of your head about keeping the ball down. It goes from a little voice to someone kind of screaming at you on your shoulder.”
Darvish (6-8) kept the Cardinals’ offense to a whisper. He struck out six of the first nine Cardinals he faced. Through eight innings, he had 12 strikeouts. The Cardinals didn’t have a plate appearance with a runner in scoring position until Fowler came up in the ninth with Martinez at third. Martinez had lined his triple to center off the glove of outfielder Albert Almora Jr., who had just entered the game. Fowler skied the flyout to tie the game, and Edman followed with a single. He stole second on Darvish to give Goldschmidt the chance one teammate described as “inevitable.”
“They just never quit, right?” Mozeliak asked. “To win games late is a very positive sign especially as you get closer to the month of October. I think it really demonstrates the grit, the desire, and the motivation to succeed. This has been a close team all year. But baseball games have a different feel in September than they do in May.”
Goldschmidt missed two pitches over the plate before pulling an inside fastball down the line for an RBI double — the clincher on the eve of returning to Arizona for the first time since the Diamondbacks traded him to the Cardinals.
Andrew Miller secured the save to avoid extra innings.
The toast over, Goldschmidt had his workout.
Mike Shildt stood in the visiting manager’s office and marveled at the fourth come-from-behind win in as many days. He described how the Cardinals flexed every facet of their roster. And, though they may be back in October, they still have something to accomplish in September. And the whole time, on his desk, rested the plastic champagne flute he had used to toast the team. He had taken a drink from it. Asked if he planned on taking another, he shook his head.
“Probably not,” he said.
This team’s perpetual optimist, from spring through the falls and now into October, Shildt left the rest of the champagne flute untouched.
It was more than half full.