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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Beating the best team in Major League Baseball was icing on the cake for Chicago manager Joe Maddon after his Cubs had eliminated the top-seeded St. Louis Cardinals from the playoffs on Tuesday.
Benefiting from a potent offense and then relying on their bullpen to blunt any chance of a Cardinals fightback, the Cubs won Game Four 6-4 at a raucous Wrigley Field to clinch their best-of-five National League Division Series 3-1.
"They're the standard bearer so for us to be able to beat them tonight really is important to us as a franchise," Maddon told reporters after the Cubs reached the NL Championship Series for the first time since 2003.
"It's kind of special to be able to beat a team of that magnitude. They just compete constantly, so to come out on top you feel a bit fortunate but I want to congratulate them on a 100-win season. They were fabulous."
The (100-62) Cardinals had the best record during the regular season but were ultimately undone in the playoffs by mounting injuries and a Chicago team that mixed a plethora of home runs with surprising depth in their bullpen.
In winning the last two games of the series in front of jubilant home fans at Wrigley Field, the Cubs blasted a total of nine homers while they used seven relievers on Tuesday to keep the Cardinals pegged back.
"It's not like Jason (Hammel) was throwing the ball poorly," said Maddon, who replaced his starting pitcher in the fourth inning.
"I just didn't overall like the location of some pitches, and I knew I didn't want to wait for us to tie or lose the lead.
"Eventually they (the Cardinals) did tie it up, but I don't want to not be proactive in advance of the game being tied so I did what we did. From the beginning to the end the bullpen was fabulous."
In pursuit of a first MLB crown since 1908, the Cubs have not had it easy this post-season as they had to contend with the second-best team in the league -- the (98-64) Pittsburgh Pirates -- in a wild card game last week before taking on the Cardinals.
"It's a shame that (of) three of the best teams in baseball, only one is moving on to the Championship Series," said Anthony Rizzo, who hit a go-ahead solo homer in the sixth inning.
"Two unbelievable clubs we just beat, the Pirates, who have an unbelievable organization and the same with the Cardinals.
"But we're going to celebrate this," he added as his fellow Cubs players, coaches and executives got into champagne-soaked party mode -- both in the clubhouse and out on the field.
"We deserve to celebrate this. It's been a long time coming for this city, and hopefully it's just a sign of things to come."
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury