The Cubs have learned to accept the fact that playing on the North Side means having to deal with all the pressure surrounding the quest to end the longest championship drought in pro sports.
Now, after beating St. Louis 5-4 Saturday to earn their second straight National League Central title, they know their next two weeks will be filled with questions about overcoming curses, black cats and all the other supernatural obstacles some will say are in their way.
"You know it's coming," first baseman Derrek Lee said. "It's the nature of the beast here in Chicago. That's what makes it so exciting when you finally win one. I guess you have to deal with the bad for the possibility of how good it can be."
On a warm, late-summer day with shadows creeping over the ballpark and a crowd of 41,597 on its feet, Kerry Wood induced Aaron Miles to loft a fly ball to center field with two outs in the ninth inning and the tying run on first. Jim Edmonds swallowed it up with ease, starting a party that would last all night in Wrigleyville.
The 2008 Cubs accomplished the first step of their long journey, but no one will be satisfied if it ends with a rerun of last year's finish, a three-game sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round of the playoffs.
"It has been a really, really nice year, and I'm proud of our team," manager Lou Piniella said. "Now we can start planning for the postseason, and hopefully we can give the fans what they want.
"And we all know what that is."
Everyone knows what Chicago wants, and Piniella hopes the fans realize the players want it just as much as they do. The Cubs cruised to the division title this year, leading the National League in runs scored and ranking second in pitching heading into the final week of the regular season.
"The difference between this year and last year is we did it playing ahead. Last year we came from behind," Piniella said. "And the difference this year is we won it on the field in front of our fans. I thought the tribute — the fans staying around and the players going out to left field and right field and down these lines — it was special.
"It goes to show you how much our players and our organization appreciate the support our fans give us."
On a day the Cubs broke the franchise attendance record, Ted Lilly pitched seven strong innings to earn his career-high 16th victory. He also came through with a successful suicide squeeze in the fourth to bring home Mark DeRosa from third for a 5-0 lead.
Alfonso Soriano had a bases-loaded single and DeRosa an RBI double.
Troy Glaus' three-run homer in the sixth pulled the Cardinals within a run, but Lilly returned for a perfect seventh before Carlos Marmol and Wood closed it out.
Wood walked Glaus leading off the ninth, but Piniella said Wood told him he was "only trying to give me a heart attack."
During a tempered but noisy postgame celebration, Ryan Dempster pointed out the Cubs had many stars in the clubhouse, but no clear-cut MVP candidates. Their strength was in their togetherness, from the $136 million left fielder to backup catcher Henry Blanco.
"We have a bunch of guys pulling together," Dempster said. "We're all trying to accomplish the same goal, and that's to win a World Series.
"When you look at it that way, we just pull for each other every day real hard, and everybody prepares that day to do what they need to do to help us win. If we do that, we believe we have enough talent in this room to beat anybody on any given night.
"We like our chances against anybody."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun