CHICAGO — Joe Maddon likes a good party.
He was in the middle of one Tuesday night like no other, the Cubs, his Cubs, clinching a postseason series at home for the first time in their 100-year history at Wrigley Field.
A 6-4 win eliminated the rival Cardinals, sending the Cubs for the first time in a dozen years to the National League Championship Series, where four more wins against the Dodgers or Mets will put them in the World Series for the first time since 1945.
As big as that was, Maddon stood on the Wrigley infield — where the party had moved from the champagne-soaked clubhouse to be shared with the fans, few if any of the 42,211 having left and still in full roar — and suggested what had just happened could be even more significant, actually transformative.
The Cubs were no longer the team that would find a way to fail.
They were now the Cubs that could. And would. And did.
"I think it validates what we're all about," Maddon said. "I think it gives our fan base hope for the future, regarding you're not waiting for something bad to happen all the time. Something good is on the horizon, not necessarily something bad. Hopefully that's going to be the takeaway from this."
Though few saw this coming for the Cubs, at least not this season, Maddon, who took over after opting out of his contract for what would have been a 10th year with the Rays, insisted he did.
"You've got to be a little bit of a dreamer to make it all come true," Maddon said.
His players bought in, and the results became obvious as they won 97 games during the regular season, beat the Pirates in the wild-card game then came back after losing the opener to oust the 100-win Cardinals.
"We're doing things we shouldn't be doing this year and we're having a great time doing it," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "This city deserves it. These fans deserve it."
"It's an honor to be a part of this," said starter Jason Hammel, another of the half-dozen former Rays now in Cubs colors. "Obviously we're very happy with where we're at right now, but we still have some work to do. Tonight just leave a little bit of the city standing, and we'll move on to the next one."
They got there Tuesday with a hard-earned win. Down 2-0 after Hammel's first four pitches, they rallied with three home runs as Maddon masterfully orchestrated the use of seven relievers, including ex-Ray Fernando Rodney, after pulling Hammel one batter into the fourth.
Shortstop Javier Baez, playing only because Addison Russell got hurt Monday, had the first big blow, a three-run opposite field homer in the second. After the Cardinals tied it in the sixth and had a chance to take the lead thwarted when rightfielder Jorge Soler threw out Tony Cruz at the plate, Rizzo responded with a solo shot to put the Cubs ahead to stay. Rookie Kyle Schwarber provided insurance with a massive blast to right in the seventh.
With every person in Wrigley standing, Cubs closer Hector Rondon got two quick outs in the ninth then allowed a single, bringing the tying run to the plate.
Gasp. For the old Cubs, this might have been the moment. For these Cubs, no big deal. Rondon came back to strike out Stephen Piscotty.
As Wrigley erupted, Maddon's initial thought in the dugout was whom they would play next, noting his ties with former boss Andrew Friedman, who now runs the Dodgers. He hugged his coaches, headed inside for the clubhouse celebration then back to the field to meet up with his wife, Jaye, saying it felt as gratifying as the Rays clinching their first World Series appearance. He looked up several times, gazing at the joy the Cubs had now, finally, delivered.
"I'm soaking it all in right now," Maddon said. "It's an incredible moment, it really is."