Ryan Braun hit a tie-breaking two-run homer with two outs in the eighth Sunday to back CC Sabathia's gritty performance and help the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Cubs, 3-1. The win, coupled with the New York Mets' loss to the Marlins less than an hour later, helped the Brewers clinch the National League Wild Card race.
The Cubs, who finished the regular season at 97-64 and with their second straight NL Central title, will open the NLDS Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field.
"We look forward to playing the Dodgers," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Some of the Cubs watched the final inning of the Mets-Marlins game, being played at Shea Stadium. Others packed their gear and bolted for the 90-mile ride home. The players had said it didn't matter who they faced. So, what was Kerry Wood's reaction when he finally learned of the matchup?
"The same as it would be if it were any other team," Wood said. "We have to keep doing what got us here. We have to do what made us successful all year long."
The Cubs went 5-2 against the Dodgers, sweeping a three-game series in late May. But the Dodgers didn't have Manny Ramirez in the lineup then, and he presents a different challenge.
"When they got Manny, they were a totally different team," Chicago's Alfonso Soriano said. "I think Manny is a great ballplayer, and he changes the whole lineup. I know they have a very good starting rotation, and we're ready for it."
Piniella was to meet with the Cubs' scouts on Tuesday to go over their notes about the Dodgers.
"We didn't [have a preference]," Piniella said. "Whoever is in will be a good opponent, a formidable opponent. We have to be ready to play whoever it is. It's the Dodgers and we look forward to playing them."
The playoff roster decisions have been made and will be announced on Tuesday.
"I didn't see anything today that might change things," Piniella said. "Our kids really pitched well today. We made a game out of it. When I left the hotel this morning, I wasn't sure how this would go, and it went well. Sabathia's a horse. He might be pitching on two days' rest and by the end of the year, he might be on one."
Sabathia (11-2) struck out seven in his 10th complete game, and seventh since joining the Brewers. Aramis Ramirez singled to lead off the second against the lefty, who was making his third consecutive start on three days' rest. Ramirez reached third one out later on an error by Prince Fielder, who was unable to get a glove on Micah Hoffpauir's grounder. Ronny Cedeno was safe on a fielder's choice, beating a possible double-play throw, and Ramirez scored.
The Cubs' gameplan was to give nearly everyone in the bullpen some work, beginning with Angel Guzman, who struck out four of the first five batters he faced, Milwaukee loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh and Michael Wuertz walked Craig Counsell to force in the game-tying run.
With one out in the eighth, Mike Cameron singled off Bob Howry (7-5) and one out later, Braun launched his 37th homer to left, prompting a raucous celebration from the crowd of 45,299 at Miller Park.
Here's some final regular-season highlights:
The Cubs pitching staff finished leading the Major Leagues in strikeouts for the eighth straight season with 1,264.
The 97 wins are the most since the 1945 team went 98-56-1. That year is the last time the Cubs were in the World Series.
The Cubs led the NL with 855 runs, the third time they've eclipsed 850 runs in the past 109 years.
The ballclub batted .278 as a team, and this is the first time it's posted that high an average since hitting .287 in 1937.
Prior to Sunday's regular-season finale, the Cubs were more focused on their football picks than who they might be playing in the first round.
"I don't care," Game 1 starter Ryan Dempster said.
"I don't care," Derrek Lee said. "You're going to have to play everybody anyways."
"All eight teams that get in are quality teams," Piniella said. "Anything can happen in the postseason. Our team has played well all year. I have confidence in them. I think we'll represent ourselves well, and we'll play as hard as we can, as well as we can. Whatever happens, happens. I do like our team, yes. I've got a whole lot of confidence in them."
The Cubs finished with the best record in the NL, but Soriano cautioned that the season starts over on Wednesday.
"In the playoffs, it's not the best team that wins, it's the team that plays the best," Soriano said. "On Wednesday, it'll be a real game, and I think we'll be ready for it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less