CHICAGO — The walking tour of Wrigley Field that winds through this stadium hours before the first pitch includes a stop in the second-deck seats high above the third-base line, the perfect vantage point for a lesson about the history that lives on the outfield walls.
Since Hall of Fame baseball executive Bill Veeck planted a brilliant idea in September of 1937, Wrigley has been synonymous with its ivy. It holds as many memories as it does forgotten balls, from the lowest lows to the high of the Cubs' 2016 World Series championship season.
But even for the ivy, this weekend was a first.
The Cardinals have a return ticket to the postseason, and they punched it by sweeping their National League Central rival in a four-game series here for the first time since, get this, 1921.
“Seriously?” asked shortstop Paul DeJong after Sunday's 3-2 comeback win.
And if Sunday’s subdued postgame toast held behind the closed doors of the visitors’ clubhouse was any indication, the Cardinals’ thirst won't be quenched by Sunday's sip.
“We are not satisfied,” Dexter Fowler said.
It was the Cardinals outfielder who erased the sixth and final lead held by his former team in a series that made us step toward believing in Mike Shildt's team as much as the manager does.
Fowler’s ninth-inning sacrifice fly is exactly the kind of play that could get lost between Jose Martinez’s galloping triple and Paul Goldschmidt’s screaming game-winning hit, but it’s exactly the kind of play Shildt has made sure to point out as his club’s combination of depth and confidence was sharpened into a blade that might have severed Cubs careers.
The Cardinals did not romp here. No, this was the opposite of that. Against a desperate and proud rival that was on its last leg, literally for star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the Cardinals scratched and clawed and snarled, reclaiming an inch and a half every time the Cubs stole one.
“We don’t quit,” Fowler said. “We play 27 outs. Or more. If we need more, we continue to play. Every guy in here, he comes up to the plate with a plan, comes to the mound with a plan. If things don’t go our way, another guy picks us up."
It took surprise heroes such as Jose Martinez. The beloved bench bat had looked lost at the plate lately. Perfect time to rip his second triple in 1,000-plus career at-bats.
It took starter Miles Mikolas’ competitive fire in a rain-soaked duel against the stellar Yu Darvish, Andrew Miller’s steel stomach, Tommy Edman’s sustained steadiness, Tyler O’Neill’s impressive speed and Goldschmidt’s clutch gene.
And that was just Sunday.
This sweep required Jack Flaherty’s excellence, Carlos Martinez’s short memory, Marcell Ozuna’s unrelenting optimism, Matt Carpenter’s series-defining 10th inning homer Thursday night, and, of course, Yadier Molina’s heroics.
"This is a group that is going to be together," Shildt said. "We are going to stay together. We are going to do it together."
An example: Molina went 0 for four with three strikeouts Sunday. And still the Cardinals found a way.
That’s what this historic sweep was about, the Cardinals insisted, even when offered opportunities to dance on the grave of a rival who dismissed them from the postseason here in 2015, and celebrated a division crown at Busch Stadium in 2017.
There were more recent reasons to dance, too, if the Cardinals had desired.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant’s comments this offseason about “boring” St. Louis fired up John Brebbia and Molina at the time, but the talking point went untouched by both this weekend, even after Brebbia retired Bryant in Friday’s bases-loaded showdown, even after Molina went six for 13 against Cubs pitching through the first three wins.
Shildt (mostly) shrugged off Ben Zobrist’s rule-bending (at best) bouncing behind the mound while Cardinals were at the plate.
A controversial balk called Saturday on Giovanny Gallegos became nothing more than a speed bump that raised eyebrows.
Not one Cardinal pointed out that it was the Cardinals, not the Cubs, who lifted champagne flutes after winning four games beneath a video board that flashed repeated advertisements for the Cubs' official champagne sponsor.
The Cardinals turned retiring Cubs organist Gary Pressy's final regular-season homestand into a series of dirges for a team that was supposed to become a dynasty, then rushed to turn the page, like the Cubs did to WGN.
The Cardinals limited conversations to one topic — themselves. When postseason rookie DeJong embraced two-time World Series champion Molina after Sunday's victory, the shortstop shared something with the catcher. This, DeJong said, was the best the Cardinals have played in Chicago since DeJong joined the Cardinals. Not just the results, either. The approach. The attitude. The intangibles that can be tapped into in the postseason.
“We just have a better team,” DeJong said. “We out-competed them. We won every game by one run. Games could have gone either way. We just took it to them.”
If there is one Cardinal who can put this sweep in the proper perspective, it is Fowler. He knows firsthand, from both sides of this cherished baseball rivalry, how rare it is to leave here with four wins in four games. He also has the most recent knowledge of what it takes to end the postseason with a win. No other Cardinals player has a ring more recent than the one Fowler won with the Cubs.
“Winning is addictive,” Fowler said. “I have been itching to get back. It’s either win, or you are" ticked.
Fowler was one of a handful of veterans to speak during Sunday's toast.
“We are not done,” he told his teammates. “This is just the start.”