Leo Hildenbrand, 104, throws the ceremonial first pitch before ...

[104-year-old Lee Hildbebrand tosses out the first pitch today, and only after Lee visits Cubs rehab in Arizona will Piniella decide Bob Howry’s October future]
Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella is doused with champagne as ...

[Piniella, refusing to get excited]

Cubs manager Lou Piniella spent the better part of the morning deflating expectation in Chicago to any and all who would listen, before they asked him if he’d prefer Grant Park or Division Street renamed in his honor.

“The amazing part about it, I hear all these things about this team is built to win the World Series,” Piniella said before the Cubs faced the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

“Well, which team isn’t built to win the World Series? Is this the only team in baseball that is built to win the World Series? I don’t think so.”

The Cubs haven’t won the Series in 100 years, and the city of Chicago is buzzing over their chances and the hopes of the AL Central-leading White Sox. But the long stretch without a World Series winner for the Cubs is in almost every conversation about the team from the north side.

“To hear all this talk about, ‘Well if you guys don’t win the division and you don’t win a World Series, it’s a lost year.’ That’s a bunch of (expletive),” Piniella said.

As for today’s bout itself, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly threw 7 innings for his 16th win of 2008, a 5-4 decision over St. Louis.  After Jim Edmonds loaded the bases, Soriano drove in 3 runs on a fielding error by Brian Barton.  The remaining 2 runs came in the 4th, as Geo Soto scored on a Troy Glaus error and Ted Lilly executed a suicide squeeze to bring in Theriot.

The Cardinals, momentarily putting off their travel plans, rallied for 4 runs in the 6th, mainly off a Troy Glaus 3-run homer.  Kosuke Fukodome’s translator must have the day off, as he missed a sign on a hit and run play “ meaning he never swung as Geo Soto lumbered into 2B for an easy out. You have to wonder what’s up with Fukodome, who started 2008 with a remarkable amount of patience and control at the plate.  Where did that go?

Still, Carlos Marmol’s 8th inning fan of Albert Pujols raised a sweet afternoon breeze.  The game closed on the ironic sight of Jim Edmonds catching the final pop fly of the day to clinch the Cubs play-off spot in front of the Cardinals.  I know it was ironic, because FOX reminded me of that a LOT.  First for his catch, then for addressing the team in the locker room about not going nuts over a division title.  Fox’s Jeanne Zelasko “ who just owns that hot Cindy McCain look “ mentioned the irony of it again, after which Eric Karros cut her off:  “Ah, he’s the guy who said something.”  Apparently, Karros, whose Cub career has never gotten so much network time as today, still has some issues with Edmonds’ true colors.

While 2008 wasn’t a cake walk,the Cubs have made the Central there’s to lose since late May or June.  Piniella gets a huge amount of credit for (well, everything) steering his team clear of major injuries and keeping the rotation and bullpen together during rocky moments.  The division felt settled in my head after the four game sweep of the Brewers that opened with Sabbathia’s loss. CC was their last best hope, and while effective everywhere else but against the Cubs, you always knew the Cubs could beat him after that.

That said, there’s no pennant or World Series yet, and the Cubs are still seeking home field advantage for the play-offs.  Piniella’s right in everything he says, of course.  What he may not get about Chicago, tho, is that the culture of winning on the North Side is as new as actually winning.   The Trib‘s Paul Sullivan discusses that much, here:

The Cubs have won three division titles over the last six seasons, after winning only two from the start of divisional play in 1969 through 2002.Manager Dusty Baker started the change in culture in 2003 and Lou Piniella has cemented it with back-to-back titles. Now Cubs fans have come to expect a contending team on an annual basis.

“They should,” Piniella said after Saturday’s clincher. “Look, Chicago is a major city. I’ve said, and I’ve told (general manager) Jim Hendry this and I’ve told (chairman) Crane Kenney. This team here should dominate the National League Central the way the Yankees and Red Sox have dominated the American League.”

Piniella wasn’t knocking the rest of the division, but pointing out that the Cubs should have more resources available to them as a major-market team.
“There’s no reason why our team here can’t be in this position for a long time to come,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Piniella chastised the media for giving the impression the Cubs season won’t be considered a success if they don’t win the World Series. He pointed to Atlanta manager Bobby Cox’s 14 division titles with only one championship, arguing “anything can happen” in the postseason.