Brewers crash Cubs' party with 5-4 win at Wrigley Field
Milwaukee Brewers closing pitcher Tyler Thornburg right, celebrates with catcher Martin Maldonado left, after the Brewers defeated the Chicago Cubs 5-4 in a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
CHICAGO (AP) The party will have to wait for another day, and that's just fine with the Chicago Cubs.
They are looking for a lot more than a division crown anyway.
''This is just the first step,'' manager Joe Maddon said. ''I mean, we have much larger baseball fish to fry in our skillet.''
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Chicago wasted its first chance to clinch the NL Central title when pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett delivered a tiebreaking, two-run double in the seventh inning Thursday night, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to a 5-4 victory.
The Cubs (93-53) were hoping to begin a 10-game homestand with a boozy celebration of their first division title since 2008. But Keon Broxton homered and Orlando Arcia drove in two runs for Milwaukee, making Chicago wait for the result of St. Louis' game at San Francisco to find out if its season-long dominance of the Central was complete.
The crowd of 41,362 cheered loudly when Hunter Pence's two-run homer in the first inning against the Cardinals was shown on the video board in left field. But it looked as if most of the Cubs were headed home rather than staying together to see the end of the West Coast game.
''Whatever happens in San Francisco is what happens in San Francisco and we'll take care of tomorrow tomorrow,'' right fielder Jason Heyward said, ''just like we always do.''
Jorge Soler hit a two-run homer for the Cubs, who had won three of four. Mike Montgomery pitched six solid innings and helped himself with a tying single in the fourth for his first career hit.
Justin Grimm (1-1) replaced Montgomery in the seventh and the Brewers put runners on first and third with one out. Gennett, batting for Jimmy Nelson (8-14), blooped an 0-2 curveball into the corner in left for a 5-3 Milwaukee lead.
''I was just trying to put the ball in play,'' Gennett said. ''He's a guy who throws a lot of curveballs so it's important not to get too big or try to do too much. It's really just, get a good pitch to hit and put it in play.''
The Cubs got one back on Heyward's RBI double in the eighth, but Tyler Thornburg threw a called third strike past pinch-hitter Willson Contreras with runners at the corners to end the inning.
Thornburg also worked the ninth for his 10th save in 15 chances.
''It was just a flat-out good ballgame,'' Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. ''Obviously with where they're at, there was great energy in the park tonight.''
Nelson won for only the second time in his last 11 starts as Milwaukee (66-81) improved to 4-4 on an 11-game trip. The right-hander allowed eight hits, struck out seven and walked two.
Even with the loss, it's only a matter of time before Chicago clinches the division. But the NL Central crown is not how this group of Cubs will be judged, not this year. After running roughshod over the rest of the majors for most of the season, Anthony Rizzo and Co. are trying to end the franchise's famous championship drought, going all the way back to when the Cubs beat the Tigers in the 1908 World Series.
''We've got a lot ahead of us. We really do,'' president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said before the loss. ''It kind of all boils down to how you perform in October.''
Brewers: RHP Michael Blazek (right forearm strain) threw a simulated game. Counsell would like to get Blazek into some games before the end of the season, but he said there's no rush. ''The goal with Mike is just to go into the offseason healthy,'' Counsell said.
Cubs: RHP Pedro Strop, who tweaked his right groin while working his way back from arthroscopic left knee surgery, threw a bullpen and said it went well. ''He's getting close,'' Maddon said. ''It's not far off.''
Cubs RHP John Lackey (9-8, 3.35 ERA) is scheduled to face RHP Chase Anderson (8-11, 4.53) in the second game of the four-game set on Friday afternoon.
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