"It ain't over till it's over" proved to be the perfect rallying cry of a team that trailed by four runs with two outs and no one on base in the ninth.
"That's the beauty of baseball," manager Lou Piniella said. "You never know what's going to happen until you get that final out."
This was something no one could have seen coming, a comeback even more absurd because the Cubs entered the ninth with only three hits off starter Dave Bush and three Brewers relievers. Listless for eight innings, they hit the Brewers with a stun-gun attack that defied belief.
"I wouldn't say sluggish," Lee said. "We just weren't getting any hits. But I think it shows the character of our team that you don't put your head down and pout. You keep going."
"It was great, and personally I needed that," Soto said. "We needed that as a team."
After the Cubs blew a chance in the 11th inning, Lee drove in pinch-runner Jason Marquis in the 12th with a two-out single up the middle off Carlos Villanueva that gave the North Siders their fifth win in six games and reduced their magic number to clinch the NL Central to two.
"It's uplifting to us, and it has to be deflating to the other team," Piniella said. "Because they played their hearts out too."
Milwaukee was 11/2 games behind in the wild card race by the end of the day, continuing a free fall after leading by 51/2 games Sept. 1.
Rich Harden gave up only one hit but walked six in his five innings.
Still, he left after 115 pitches with a 2-1 lead because of homers by Edmonds and Ramirez.
Then Jeff Samardzija imploded in Milwaukee's four-run sixth, though the runs were unearned after DeRosa mishandled a potential inning-ending double-play ball.
Kerry Wood struck out the side in the 11th before the Cubs stranded runners on the corners in the bottom of the inning. Then J.J. Hardy's leadoff single and Corey Hart's double put runners on second and third with no outs in the 12th, prompting a mound meeting between Wood and Piniella.
"He says, 'Well, I'll just get three strikeouts,' " Piniella recalled. "I said 'No, just get three ground balls.' And that's exactly what he did."
After Wood escaped the jam, the Brewers brought Villanueva in. He walked Daryle Ward leading off and Marquis entered as a pinch-runner. After Reed Johnson sacrificed and Alfonso Soriano was walked intentionally, Marquis advanced to third on Ryan Theriot's fly to right. That brought up Lee with the chance to be the hero.
"We never doubted him," Soto said. "We're always 100 percent behind our captain. He's the leader, and he got it done today."
The Cubs have a chance to take the division Friday if they beat St. Louis and Milwaukee loses to Cincinnati.
"Every year I went to spring training the last 15 years, the goal always has been to win the World Series, not to clinch your division," Edmonds said. "If we stay on that track and keep that common goal: not champagne [for just] one day. Hopefully, we can do it two or three or four times."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun