CHICAGO — Teams usually can’t wait to get out of the cramped quarters of the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Not so for the Atlanta Braves, who were delighted to put in some overtime in the less-than-friendly confines Friday night.
The Braves’ 9-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs reduced their magic number to one and ensured them of at least a tie in the NL East.
The players decided to watch the game between the second-place Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins in the clubhouse to see if they would clinch the outright title – even though Nationals-Marlins wasn’t slated to begin until an hour and a half after the Braves game ended.
“Some guys are going to stay here and some guys’ families are here, so they’re going to go spend some time with their families,” closer Craig Kimbrel said. “We’re all going to be back here around the end of the game.”
The Nationals, however, put the Braves’ celebration on hold, beating the Marlins 8-0 behind a complete-game effort from Jordan Zimmermann.
Atlanta will have a chance to clinch its first division title since 2005 with a win today.
“This might be the best group of guys in terms of resiliency,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “They battle. They’re a talented group of guys – let’s not forget that – but we’ve gone through some adversity at times, losing some key players earlier in the year and a leader on our pitching staff.
“It’s a good group of guys; just a good team.”
That all was on display Friday.
Chris Johnson went 3 for 4 with a home run, and the Braves broke open a tie game in the top of the ninth inning with four runs – all with two outs. Brian McCann and Johnson each had an RBI single, and Andrelton Simmons followed with a two-run double.
Freddie Freeman earlier hit a three-run homer for Atlanta, which jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
“We had a chance for some add-on runs earlier in the game,” Gonzalez said. “We some opportunities and didn’t do it; (McCann) popped up with runners on second and third (in the fifth inning). But that’s how good this guy is. He comes back later in the ninth inning, facing a pretty good reliever in Kevin Gregg, and gets a base hit.”
McCann made the most of his second chance.
“I was just glad to get a pitch to handle and not miss it,” he said.
Gregg (2-5) gave up all four ninth-inning runs, and that was just the start of his bad day.
Gregg had been told by manager Dale Sveum a couple of days ago that Cubs would take an occasional look at Pedro Strop in the closer’s role, but Gregg took it to mean that he was no longer the closer and went on a rant against the front office after the game.
That prompted Cubs president Theo Epstein to get involved.
“Apparently Kevin misunderstood Dale and thought he’d had his job permanently taken away from him,” Epstein said. “Despite getting the ball in the closer’s role the past couple days, he apparently had some choice words. Upon hearing that I called him up to Dale’s office to tell him how disappointed I was in him.
“I think it took him a couple minutes to understand that he’d misunderstood Dale and he ultimately apologized to me and Dale. I told him that I’d sleep on it and decide if we had any disciplinary action.”
On the other side of Wrigley Field, the atmosphere was completely different as the Braves prepared for their postseason party.
“It’s been a fun season,” starter Paul Maholm said. “We started off real hot and built a big lead, we cooled off a bit, lost some people, but we were able to maintain that big lead.
“Hopefully, we’ll go deep in their playoffs.”