Maddux notches 317th victory

Maddux notches 317th victory

ST. LOUIS -- Greg Maddux will be back with the Chicago Cubs in 2006. He earned it Wednesday night.

Maddux picked up career win No. 317 in the Chicago Cubs' 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

With the win, the Cubs posted their first winning season at Busch Stadium since 1995, ending the year at 5-3. This is the last season at the circular ballpark with a new Busch Stadium being built next door. It will open in 2006 and Maddux will be there for the Cubs.

Maddux (12-11) threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings and has now totaled 402 innings in 2004-05, which means the $9 million option for 2006 kicks in. He entered Wednesday's game having pitched 212 2/3 innings in 2004 and 183 2/3 innings this year. He needed 400 innings combined to activate the option, which he agreed to in February 2004 when he returned to the Cubs.

"Oh, that's right," Maddux said when asked about the option.

The decision is up to him, but he deferred to the Cubs.

"I hope [I come back] -- if they want me, I want to come back," Maddux said. "I'm not going to play because I can, know what I mean? I'll play because I deserve it."

Maddux earned his paycheck in the third. The Cardinals loaded the bases on three consecutive singles, but Maddux got Jim Edmonds to hit into a 1-2-3 double play, and then struck out John Mabry. For the game, he gave up seven hits and walked two while striking out four.

"I don't know if I tried harder or what, but I was done," Maddux said. "It was one of those games where I felt I was always in a jam. You never get a chance to get your second wind or whatever. I hit a wall and when you're done, the bullpen has a lot better chance than you do."

Michael Wuertz, Roberto Novoa and Ryan Dempster all came through, with Dempster surviving a scary ninth for his 24th save.

"He said he'd had enough," Cubs manager Dusty Baker of Maddux. "He had some stressful innings to get through."

Baker may have developed a few gray hairs in the ninth. The Cubs loaded the bases with one out before Neifi Perez hit into an inning-ending double play. The Cardinals had a runner at third with two outs in the ninth, but Dempster struck out Abraham Nunez looking.

Maddux needs one more win to tie Phil Niekro for 15th on the all-time list. The Cubs right-hander has four starts remaining, and still has a chance to finish with at least 15 wins for the 18th consecutive season, an unprecedented feat. He won't look ahead.

"I pitch in five days," Maddux said. "I try to put myself in position and try to pitch right five days from now and whatever happens, happens. I'd let the boys in Vegas know if I knew. You never know. I'll do what I can to put myself in position to have success."

The right-hander doesn't like to talk about his many milestones.

"He doesn't say it, but it's on our minds," Baker said. "The thing is he wants to pitch as many innings as he can to win."

It's a lesson Baker hopes the young Cubs pitchers can learn.

"He's given us a lot of quality, period," Baker said of Maddux. "You see him talking to Sergio [Mitre] a lot and [Jermaine] Van Buren and Jerome Williams. Those guys are asking him questions.

"He loves to compete, he loves the game," Baker said. "He studies. I don't know anybody who studies that much in baseball. This guy is one of the best guys I can remember having on my team."

Is Maddux unique because he's an old-school-type pitcher?

"He's old," Baker said of the 39-year-old right-hander. "You don't see too many guys still pitching his age. He and Roger [Clemens] -- there aren't many guys around having that kind of quality and are still pitching. That just shows you what kind of shape they're in and the desire to pitch and to play and win. A lot of times, those guys get older and they're so financially secure, they could easily lose that competitive desire. He hasn't lost any."

Some of the fans in the sellout crowd of 47,789 applauded when Maddux was pulled from the game in the sixth, but it wasn't that the red-dressed fans were happy he was leaving. It was more in appreciation of what he's done.

"I figured those were the Cubs fans, weren't they? Let's not get carried away," Maddux said.

The Cubs got all the offense Maddux needed in the second. With two outs and a runner at first, Perez hit an RBI double and scored on rookie Matt Murton's single to go ahead 2-0 against Mark Mulder (15-7).

Albert Pujols launched his 37th homer with two outs in the St. Louis seventh off Wuertz, but was left on deck to end the game.

"It feels good to win the last game at Busch Stadium [for the Cubs]," Baker said. "That's the way you want to end it -- with Albert Pujols on deck."

Maddux has some fond memories of the arch-topped ballpark.

"I was thinking about that for the last three days," Maddux said. "We had a great playoff series against the Cardinals one year [with the Braves]. We were down, 3-1, and we came back and beat them. We won Game 5 here and [Games] 6 and 7 back in Atlanta.

"I had a game here against Mike Morgan and it was 1-0 and I think it took less than two hours," he said. "We went to the same high school, so that was a special game for me facing him. Facing Mark McGwire is definitely something that comes to mind. Facing the Cardinals teams when they had the speed and Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee and all those guys.

"You think about that stuff because this is where it all happened," Maddux said. "I took some time to reflect back on my experiences here. I guess they're going to blow it up once the season is over, right? I have a lot of good memories. Great fans -- I'm sure it'll be the same fans half a block down the road."

Cubs catcher Michael Barrett will miss the old Busch.

"This stadium means a lot to me," Barrett said. "I was catching when McGwire hit his 70th home run and I hate to see this stadium not be in existence. It's fun to win the last game the Cubs and Cardinals play in this stadium and to me it's a historical game. It's just too bad that right now we're not charted to play these guys in the playoffs. I can't imagine what the atmosphere would be like."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.