Cubs head home to face ghosts, curses and Kershaw one win away from World Series
After a Game 5 win, the Cubs are on the precipice of the World Series
LOS ANGELES -- It has come to this, again, just as it did in 2003: The long-cursed Chicago Cubs return home heading into Game 6 of the National League Championship Series a single win away from the World Series.
Only this time might -- just might -- be different.
This time, the Cubs boast not just arguably the best team in franchise history but also a different kind of swagger and a rare repose for an organization that carries the weight of so much heartbreaking history.
That continued refusal to buckle under the weight of so-called curses and other men's history was on clear display Thursday night as they routed the Dodgers 8-4 at Dodger Stadium to take a 3-2 series lead. At every step, the Cubs flashed all the things that have made them so remarkable.
Their sterling starting pitching continued with Jon Lester masterfully mowing down Dodger after Dodger. He went seven strong innings, gave up a single run, walked one, allowed five hits and struck out six. He was the consummate ace -- calm, in control, able to temper a dangerous L.A. team inning after inning, even as they tried to turn his throw-to-first-base yips into a psychological advantage. It simply didn't work.
The offense, too, continued its reawakening after it went dormant throughout the early part of the series. In Game 4, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell broke from their slumps for three hits and a home run each. They picked up Thursday where they left off Wednesday, each going 2 for 5. Russell added another long homer.
After being shut out in Games 2 and 3 -- against two pitchers they will face again in Chicago if the series goes seven -- the Cubs have scored 18 runs the past two outings. The Cubs, at least for now, have reverted to an offense that scored the third-most runs in baseball in the regular season.
But most striking, and important, for the Cubs was the lack of panic. They carried a 1-1 tie into the sixth inning and tacked on two in the sixth to take a 3-1 lead. Then, in the eighth, they broke the game open with five runs.
At no point did this team offer up the kind of the-sky-might-be-falling reaction we've seen from Cubs teams in the past.
That's particularly telling because the game was as close to a must-win moment as you can find in a league championship series where it's 2-2 entering the night. But must-win it was. Clayton Kershaw still lurks, waiting on Saturday to bring all this Cubs joy to a standstill.
The Dodger ace -- to put his greatness in context -- has the second-best adjusted earned run average in the history of the baseball, and the best for a starting pitcher. He is literally one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and he flexed every bit of that greatness in Game 2 of this series. He also has his own Cubs-like narrative of failure in the postseason, one he bristles at in postgame press conferences, one that clearly bothers him, and one that is waiting to be dispelled if he can do his part to reassert the Cubs' history of playoff ineptitude.
If he does just that, and his Dodgers prevail against Kyle Hendricks, who sported baseball's best ERA this year, then it will be Rich Hill for the Dodgers against Jake Arrieta for the Cubs in a winner-take-all Game 7 Sunday night.
Which would be: advantage Dodgers.
And that's before we talk about the ghosts from 2003, when the Cubs had the same chance and to advance to the World Series. Like now, they had a 3-2 series lead heading back home. Only this time the memory of that name, Bartman, would also be waiting, at least for its fans.
But maybe not for their team.
Maybe this group really is different.
If so, Cubs fans, get Wrigley ready for a team worthy of her and a party that could top any, ever.
There was a small preview of that on display Thursday night, long after most fans had left and only media remained in a mostly empty Dodger Stadium, of what that might look like: a throng of Cubs fans chanting and cheering behind the visitor's dugout, waving towels, soaking up the hope, turning a small part of the Dodgers ballpark into their own party zone.
It's a cool thought, Wrigleyville and Chicago itself dancing in the streets, a World Series appearance suddenly fact.
But take it from someone who was outside Wrigley for Game 6 in 2003: Party later. For now, let your team -- let this team -- show us all what it can do.
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