CHICAGO -- The Brewers spoiled the Cubs' party plans on Thursday, but just before midnight, Chicago was able to celebrate. The Cubs lost, 5-4, to the Brewers after pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett smacked a tiebreaking two-run double in the seventh inning at Wrigley Field. A few hours later, fans were cheering in Wrigleyville. The Cubs were the National League Central champions for the first time since 2008.
The Cubs claimed the division title after the Giants beat the Cardinals, 6-2, in San Francisco late Thursday. Chicago manager Joe Maddon had already left the ballpark, and the players did not plan on sticking around for the outcome of the game, especially with a 1:20 p.m. CT start on Friday. Last year, the Cubs secured a postseason berth as one of the NL Wild Card teams after the Giants lost on the West Coast.
"Last year was exactly the same," Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said after Thursday's game. "Regardless, we have to come back tomorrow and win the ballgame. We've been playing good enough to not quit now. We want to keep rolling."
The Cubs would've preferred a party on their terms and Jorge Soler revved up the crowd of 41,362 at Wrigley when he hit a two-run homer in the Chicago second, but the lead was short-lived. Milwaukee took a one-run lead in fourth before the Cubs tied it later in the inning.
The game remained tied at 3 in the Brewers' seventh when Domingo Santana doubled to lead off the inning against Justin Grimm. One out later, Martin Maldonado walked and Gennett, batting for starter Jimmy Nelson, lined a double down the left-field line. Grimm had given up one run over 22 2/3 innings in his previous 28 appearances. It was the Brewers' first win at Wrigley in seven games this season, and they trail the season series, 10-6.
"It was just a flat-out good ballgame," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "Obviously with where they're at, there was great energy in the park tonight, and I thought it was a game we were going to do everything we could to win. We answered that energy and we used that energy for us. We played a very good baseball game.
"There's no question that spots like this help us. They expose us to great situations."
The Cubs closed to 5-4 with two outs in the eighth on Jason Heyward's RBI double, and had two on, but Tyler Thornburg struck out rookie Willson Contreras to end the inning. Thornburg, who pitched a scoreless ninth for his 10th save, fell behind 2-0 on Contreras before coming back to strike him out.
"Tyler Thornburg, when he was in, there's no bigger situation," Counsell said. "He's not going to be in a bigger situation. He's not going to be in a better atmosphere, and our guys are not going to be in better atmospheres than that."
"It's pretty awesome, I'm not going to lie," he said of the energy in the ballpark. "I've only had one other time where the crowd noise was definitely noticeable, I think in 2013 in St. Louis might be the last time, when I was a starter. But that was pretty awesome. I've never gotten the opportunity to throw in the playoffs, but that's about as close as I can imagine."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Soler power:Addison Russell led off the Chicago second with a popup that third baseman Hernan Perez and shortstop Orlando Arcia converged on, but the ball dropped between the two. Russell was safe on the infield single. Soler followed with his 12th home run, a shot Statcast™ estimated had an exit velocity of 114 mph, the hardest-hit home run by a Cubs player this year. Soler entered batting .208 in September, but the Cubs are hoping he can have a postseason like last year, when he batted .474 with three home runs in seven games.
Double trouble:Keon Broxton pulled the Brewers to within a run, 2-1, on his second homer in the past three games to start the fourth, but the three-run inning was keyed on back-to-back doubles with two outs. They were hit by Santana and Arcia, who followed Santana's double with a two-run double of his own to give Milwaukee a 3-2 lead. Santana added a second double in the seventh and scored on Gennett's double.
"Tonight, he swung the bat very well," Counsell said about Santana. "He was in the middle of the field tonight, which is a good thing. Even the line-drive out [in the eight] was against a tough right-hander, which was a good sign, as well. He's doing a good job and he's in a nice place."
Six-pack: Making his fifth start as the Cubs' sixth starter, Mike Montgomery scattered four hits over six innings, including Broxton's solo homer. The one pitch he said he'd like to have back is the one to Arcia in the fourth that resulted in a two-run double. The lefty, who struck out seven, helped himself in the fourth. With two outs and Heyward at third, Montgomery lined his first-career hit and collected his first RBI with a single to center to tie the score at 3. The Cubs may have Montgomery make another start as they try to give their starters enough rest heading into October.
"That was a lot of fun," Montgomery said of his first hit. "I went to Davey [Martinez, bench coach] after my last at-bat, and said, 'Tell me something, give me something to work with. I need to get better swings on the ball.' I went out there and tried to make a good swing. It was pretty cool to get that hit, especially in that situation."
Big 'K': Nelson allowed a run in the fourth, surrendering the lead after the Brewers went ahead, 3-2, in the top half, but it could've been worse. Montgomery and Dexter Fowler were on first and second with two outs, when Kris Bryant stepped into the batter's box amid "MVP!" chants. Nelson struck him out swinging to end the inning.
In the Brewers' eighth, Ryan Braun singled to lead off and Joe Smith tried to pick him off with a throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Braun was called safe, but the Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call was overturned.
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers:Chase Anderson will get the start Friday and face the Cubs for the third time this season and in his career. He's 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in the first two starts, allowing just two earned runs in 9 1/3 innings. Anderson is 4-1 with a 2.30 ERA in his past nine starts overall. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT.
Cubs:John Lackey is scheduled to start the second game of this four-game series, and he'll be happy to be back at Wrigley Field on Friday. The right-hander is 6-4 with a 2.44 ERA at home this season. He's given up four earned runs over 12 innings in two starts against the Brewers this season. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT.