Cubs fans’ expectations rise with division title



By Alex Iniguez

As Dan Drake stood outside Murphy’s Pub in Champaign on Saturday, he couldn’t help but smile. The 27-year-old had just watched the Chicago Cubs clinch the Central Division title with a 5-4 win against the St. Louis Cardinals, officially increasing their odds to win the World Series title that has eluded them for almost a century.

“I’m very excited,” Drake said. “It’s a good year. I think they’re going to go all the way. I didn’t get a chance to get up to any games this year, but it’s been exciting to watch games around here. The energy has been great, and it’s just nice to see people having fun with the team.”

While Cubs fans roaming the streets of Campustown immediately following the clinching win were few and far between, the excitement level of the fans that could be seen were high.

“We had seven games to clinch it,” Drake said. “The atmosphere so far has been great, and it’s going to pick up again once the postseason starts.”

Sophomore Steve Schleicher was especially thrilled, though his expectations were still not fully met.

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    “I felt we played well (Saturday),” Schleicher said. “I was very encouraged by Kerry Wood’s performance, which is a big question mark heading into the playoffs. I’m very excited, but I expected us to be here the whole year – this is just the first step.”

    The acquisition of center fielder Jim Edmonds on May 14 was one move that has helped the Cubs this season after he was released by San Diego. The 38-year-old Edmonds has been a pleasant surprise in Chicago, especially since he was basically a free player – the Cubs only have to pay him a prorated portion of the $390,000 minimum salary. With the Cubs this season, Edmonds is hitting .257 with 18 home runs and 47 RBIs.

    “How ironic is it that he caught the game-winning catch?” Schleicher questioned. “When we signed him, I had mixed feelings at best. I wasn’t a huge fan of the signing, but now I love it. I’m a Jim Edmonds fan.”

    Although the Cubs looked strong early, the Cardinals battled their way back into the game. Ted Lilly executed a perfect suicide squeeze to plate the Cubs’ fifth run as Mark DeRosa scampered home in the fourth inning. But the Cardinals still had hope. In the sixth inning, Troy Glaus hit a three-run home run, his 25th of the season, to bring the score to 5-4.

    “When the Cardinals came back, I couldn’t see it any other way,” Schleicher said. “I can’t see the Cubs blowing out the Cards to win the division. No matter what, it’s going to be a close game. It’s going to be down to the wire. It kept me nervous, kept me shaking a little bit, but honestly I don’t think I’d have it any other way.”

    Saturday, the Cubs held a 93-60 record, good for second-best in the majors. But to many Cubs fans, second-best won’t be good enough this year.

    It almost goes without saying, but it’s been 100 years since the North Siders have won a World Series.

    It’s also been 100 years since they have won the Central Division in back-to-back seasons, so maybe, just maybe, this is the year the Cubs reverse the curse.