Perhaps Greg Maddux didn't mean to indict the Cubs when he complimented St. Louis on its second straight division title Saturday after the Cardinals' 5-1 victory at Wrigley Field.
But after 97 years without a championship, Maddux's words may echo loudly through the organization during the off-season
"It's amazing," Maddux said. "You play the game right, you usually win your division. You don't have to be the best team to win, but you have to play the best. They have done it."
The Cardinals did it Saturday behind the dominant pitching of former Thornwood star Mark Mulder and an opportunistic offense, earning the right to celebrate a title they had clinched Thursday.
Leading 1-0 in the second inning, the Cardinals showed exactly why they have been far ahead of the Cubs, in the standings and on the field, for two seasons.
They executed a perfect hit-and-run with their Nos. 7 and 8 hitters, Abraham Nunez and Einar Diaz, before Mulder laid down a suicide squeeze on Maddux's first offering. Nunez waltzed home to improve the Cardinals' success rate on squeeze bunts to 13 of 15.
"They have the personnel to do it," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "And they do it against guys who throw strikes. It's one of their things."
A half-inning later, with Cubs runners on second and third and one out, Jeromy Burnitz was thrown out easily at the plate on a grounder to shortstop David Eckstein after he initially held up.
Baserunning has not been one of the Cubs' best attributes the last two years.
"You think you had seen it all, Pat," exasperated Cubs radio announcer Ron Santo said to his partner, Pat Hughes.
Baker said Burnitz, who also was picked off first Friday, thought the hit was a line drive so he hesitated.
"We just didn't do it right," Baker said.
The next inning, center fielder Corey Patterson watched as Jim Edmonds doubled off the vines without any attempt at a play. Nomar Garciaparra then watched Edmonds hold second on a routine grounder before advancing easily after Garciaparra's throw to first.
Larry Walker's RBI single made it 3-0, and Maddux was yanked after giving up two runs in the seventh.
The Cardinals didn't rush onto the field after Todd Walker grounded to first off Jason Isringhausen to end it.
Manager Tony La Russa hugged everyone in the handshake line, but the emotions were muted because of the inevitability of the clinching.
"They didn't really celebrate too much," Baker said. "But it never feels good."
The Cardinals' postgame celebration was low-key as well. They have been herebefore and know it's only one big leg of the journey. They head to the postseason in October for the fifth time in six years and have earned the respect of those they have conquered along the way.
"I hope Grud (Mark Grudzielanek) does [well], and Jason Marquis," Maddux said.
"Everybody has their players over there they have played with in the past that you respect the way they go about their business."
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