CHICAGO - It has been a dream season for the Chicago Cubs, but they might not be in the middle of this compelling postseason if not for the misfortune of the National League Central rival Pittsburgh Pirates.
The three players that the Cubs acquired from the Pirates at midseason - Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and Randall Simon - all made significant contributions to the club's division title drive, and all have had an impact on the postseason.
Lofton, in particular, has been the catalyst for a Cubs offense that entered Game 6 averaging 5.2 runs a game, even after factoring in Josh Beckett's overpowering performance in Game 5. Lofton came into last night with a .349 postseason average, 15 hits, 10 runs and four stolen bases.
Ramirez is tied for the team lead with four home runs and leads the Cubs with 10 postseason RBIs. Simon came in batting .381 in more limited duty, with one homer and six RBIs.
Where would the Cubs be if general manager Jim Hendry had not been so aggressive in harvesting the Pirates' roster at midseason? "I don't know," he said. "Obviously, they've played so well, it would probably depend on who else you got instead of them. We were going to get somebody, toward the end of July, beginning of August. It's hard to imagine we could have gotten anybody better."
Hendry explained during Monday's off-day news conference that the Cubs didn't necessarily just rent the three players for the second half of the season. It is possible that all three players will be back next year, though the return of injured Corey Patterson could make Lofton expendable.
The two deals didn't fall right into place, so Hendry has to wonder if it was fate that brought them to Chicago for what could be a magical finish.
"Everything happens for a reason," Hendry said. "I remember trying to make a deal or two before we made those and it didn't work out. So it wasn't like everything went in place real easily. I remember one night [manager] Dusty [Baker] saying, `Hey, just keep plugging, you're taking it too hard.'
" ... And a couple of days later we made the deal for Kenny and Aramis, and obviously that worked out well."
The other guys
Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre acknowledged before the game what everybody already knew. The television networks and most of the baseball world have been rooting unabashedly for the Cubs to reach the World Series.
"Without a doubt," Pierre said. "I was watching CNN today and they were talking about the Cubs, and before the other things going on in the world. ... I would say 97 percent of the world probably wants to see the Cubs."
McKeon mum on future
Marlins manager Jack McKeon remains noncommittal about his future, though he insists that he has had a great time since he took over for fired Jeff Torborg in May.
"I've enjoyed it tremendously," said McKeon, 72. "It's probably the most enjoyable year I've ever had. ...
"As far as next year, I told management when I took this job, I'd talk to them after the season. Maybe I want to come back. Maybe I don't. Maybe they don't want me back ... who knows? We'll worry about that later on."
How special was Josh Beckett's performance on Sunday? ESPN researchers determined that he became only the third pitcher in postseason history to throw a complete game, give up two hits or fewer and strike out 10 or more. The others were the Yankees' Roger Clemens, who pitched a one-hitter and struck out 15 Seattle Mariners in 2000, and the White Sox's Ed Walsh, who pitched a two-hitter and struck out 12 Cubs in 1906.