David J. Phillip
Back in the big time

Long-suffering Cubs blitz Dodgers to reach World Series for first time in 71 years

There were wild celebrations at Wrigley Field last night.

THE CHICAGO CUBS are returning to the World Series for the first time in 71 years, a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers giving them a chance to end the longest title drought in North American sports.

The hard-luck Cubs haven’t won the world Series since 1908, and last played in Major League Baseball’s championship showcase in 1945.

But with the victory before 42,386 ecstatic fans at Wrigley Field, the Cubs wrapped up the National League Championship Series four games to two and will face the Cleveland Indians in the 112th World Series starting on Tuesday in Cleveland.

The Indians haven’t won a World Series title since 1948.

“I thought we played one of our best games we played all year tonight, under these circumstances,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The defense, the pitching, the hitting. That was a complete game of baseball.”

The Cubs pounced quickly on Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw, scoring two runs in the first inning to stake Chicago starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks to an early lead.

After giving up a first-pitch single, Hendricks dominated, facing the minimum number of Dodgers hitters through 7 1/3 shut-out innings.

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo both homered off Kershaw as the Dodgers were denied their first trip to the World Series since 1988.

NLCS Dodgers Cubs Baseball Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts holds up the trophy. Nam Y. Huh Nam Y. Huh

A Cubs team that won a major league-leading 103 regular-season games chased Kershaw after five innings. Kershaw, who pitched seven scoreless innings in a game-two win over the Cubs at Wrigley a week earlier, gave up five runs, four of them earned, on seven hits.

“The Cubs’ hitters, they had a great game plan tonight,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “There was traffic all night for Clayton. And he gave it everything he had, but when he did make a mistake, they made him pay.”

When the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig grounded into a double play to end the game, Wrigley Field erupted as Cubs players stormed the mound to celebrate.

“This is unbelievable right now,” Hendricks said. “Today, that might have been the best game I pitched all year. I had my fastball command, changeup, curveball, I had everything going.”

Chicago second baseman Javier Baez delivered more heads-up defensive play, tagging Andrew Toles out to spark a double play in the first inning.

In the bottom half of the inning, Kris Bryant singled to right field to score Dexter Fowler for the first run, and the Cubs capitalized on Toles’s error in left field to score a second run on Ben Zobrist’s sacrifice fly.

It was the first time this season that Kershaw allowed two runs in the first inning and was a sign of things to come.

Addison Russell led off the bottom of the second with a double and scored on Fowler’s two-out single. Contreras homered off Kershaw in the fourth and Rizzo in the fifth.

It was sweet relief for long-suffering Cubs fans, whose team were one win from the World series in 1984 before San Diego rallied to win three straight games and advance to the Fall Classic.

NLCS Dodgers Cubs Baseball Fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field. Matt Marton Matt Marton

In 2003, the Cubs led the NLCS 3-2 and were up 3-0 in the eighth inning of the sixth game when a fan, Steve Bartman, tried to grab a foul ball in the front row of the stands and disrupted a potential leaping catch by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou. The Florida Marlins rallied to win that game and the next, denying the Cubs again.

Some say the heartache can be traced back to that 1945 World Series, when legend has it Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, cursed the club when asked to take his pet goat from the ballpark.

“The history means a lot,” Hendricks said. “It puts it in perspective for us. We enjoy it more, because we know what it means to the fans of this city.

“At the end of the day,” he added, “it’s about baseball, it’s about winning games, and it comes down to making pitches.”

While the Indians still await, the Cubs achievement was already being celebrated throughout Chicago and beyond.

“Incredible. Absolutely incredible,” an enthusiastic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

“The Chicago Cubs are National League champions. Across Chicago and around the world, generations of Cubs fans, from the very young to the very, very old, are celebrating tonight.”

But Cubs slugger Bryant said he and his teammates are focused only on the immediate future.

“We’re too young. We don’t care about it,” Bryant said of the Cubs’ decades of agony. ”This is a new team. We’re enjoying it — and our work is just getting started.”

© AFP 2016

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