CHICAGO -- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had made a deal with his staff that the day after they clinched the National League Central: they would watch a game from the bleachers at Wrigley Field. And that's what they did on Friday, with Epstein wearing a fake mustache to try to hide in the crowd of 40,823.
"In case something went really wrong in the game, I thought it would be good to be disguised out there," Epstein said, drenched in champagne after celebrating the Cubs' walk-off 5-4 victory over the Brewers. "I didn't plan ahead until the last minute, and that's what the costume store had. It was fun."
Epstein was able to be a bleacher bum for at least four innings before the fans realized the architect of the Cubs was sitting among them. He bought his share of beers, and basked in the setting.
"To enjoy the real Wrigley Field and sit out there and feel the breeze and be amongst the fans was wonderful," Epstein said. "It was even better than I thought it would be. I haven't done that since 1997 at Wrigley. It was great."
For the Cubs, winning the division and not having to deal with being an NL Wild Card entry, which they were last year, will make this postseason a little more blissful, too. The Cubs, who won the NL Central earlier than any other team has ever done, still have 15 games to go in the regular season.
"It's not special yet," Chicago starter John Lackey said. "We won a division and a tough division. It's the first goal. We definitely have some talent, but we have a long way to go."
On Friday, manager Joe Maddon backed Lackey up with the reserves, and they delivered, showing just how much depth the Cubs have. Albert Almora Jr. hit a game-tying two-run homer in the fifth and Miguel Montero delivered a walk-off shot leading off the 10th inning.
"It was fitting to have a lots of guys contribute, and not just stars, but everyone contributed today," Epstein said. "To have the consummate team player, Miguel Montero, who has handled this up-and-down year so, so well, to have him walk us off and launch the celebration was very apropos."
The Cubs won 97 games last season, beat the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game, and then topped their division rivals, the Cardinals, in the NL Division Series, only to lose in the NL Championship Series to the Mets. They were preseason favorites, and they know they have a lot of expectations to deal with.
"The only thing for me now is about the fans," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said. "We have the best team in baseball, but the playoffs don't reward the best team, they reward the team that's playing the best, so we have to be ready for that and we have to move forward. Let's hope we have the same celebration a few weeks from now."
Before Maddon took the Cubs job, a former Chicago player told him just how special it was to call Wrigley Field home.
"This is unique," Maddon said. "I'd heard it before -- [a player told me] everybody should be a Cub at some point in their Major League existence if they had the opportunity. There's nothing like it. ... To play here under these circumstances, in this ballpark, with these fans is different in all the best ways."
Winning the division is the first step. Epstein and Co. know that.
"Champagne is the best smell in baseball," Epstein said. "It never gets old."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.