The starting pitching foursome of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement is the main reason the Cubs are where they are with September around the corner.
And now that the stretch run has arrived, manager Dusty Baker plans on riding his horses as long as he can.
When Clement left the mound after the eighth inning of Friday's game with Milwaukee, the Wrigley Field crowd of 38,215 gave him a standing ovation, assuming he was done for the day after throwing 118 pitches.
But Baker sent his man back to work the ninth, and Clement finished the job with a complete game and a 4-2 win over the Brewers.
The Cubs not only beat Ben Sheets for the first time in seven career decisions, they ended the Brewers' 10-game win streak.
They finished the day a half-game behind Houston and St. Louis, both of whom lost Friday night, in the National League Central and are 11/2 games out of the wild-card lead.
Closer Joe Borowski was unavailable because of a stiff neck caused by a bad night of sleep in his St. Louis hotel room.
That left Baker with the option of extending what already was Clement's longest outing or going with Mike Remlinger or Antonio Alfonseca, who were warming up, in the ninth inning.
Neither had been effective in his last outing in St. Louis.
"I don't have guys warming up just to be warming up," Baker said.
Clement "had thrown a lot of pitches. If he'd gotten in trouble, we'd go with [Remlinger] or Alfonseca. There was a question, but he eliminated that with a 1-2-3 inning."
After Damian Miller's solo homer in the eighth gave the Cubs an insurance run, Baker sent Clement to the plate, then back to the mound.
Clement started the ninth by breaking Richie Sexson's bat on a comebacker.
Then he struck out John Vander Wal and induced Wes Helms to ground out to end the game.
Clement's 127-pitch effort was his longest of the season.
In the last five games, including two starts by Clement and one apiece by Wood, Prior and Zambrano, Cubs starters have combined for a 1.18 earned-run average despite winning only three of them.
"You don't go out saying I'm going to do better than them or I'm going to do the same," Clement said.
"You want to, because as a pitching staff we've taken pride in thinking we can keep us away from long losing streaks and that all five [starters] can be a stopper at any time."
The Cubs have a shot at drawing a Chicago-record 3 million fans.
Clement said the crowds are "taking it to a new level now that we're in the pennant race."
"This crowd is so supportive of us. Hopefully we can win it for them."
cubs 4, brewers 2