The Associated Press
Geoff Burke / Reuters
CHICAGO – All that’s left for the Chicago Cubs to do is make history.
The Cubs came home to Wrigley Field with a 3-2 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series and a chance Saturday night to end a more than seven-decade wait to return to the World Series.
”We’re not going to run away from anything,” manager Joe Maddon said. ”It’s within our reach right now. But I do want us to go after it as though it’s, again, hate to say it, but Saturday. Let’s just go play our Saturday game and see how it falls.”
For a franchise defined more by heartbreak and losing, this will be no ordinary Saturday. Then again, this has been no ordinary season.
The Cubs led the majors with 103 wins and ran away with the NL Central title. They won more games than any Cubs team since 1910, and if they beat Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, they’ll face Cleveland in their first World Series since 1945.
That, of course, will put them on the verge of their first championship since 1908.
But before they can think about that, they have to get to the World Series, and their first opportunity comes against one of the game’s most dominant pitchers in Kershaw. The Cubs will go with major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks in Game 6.
Game 7 would be on Sunday, if necessary.
”We’ve won two games in a row before,” said Los Angeles’ Adrian Gonzalez. ”Nothing says we can’t do it Saturday and Sunday.”
The Cubs put themselves in this position by shaking off back-to-back shutout losses and combining to score 18 runs in the past two games.
Jon Lester threw seven solid innings, Addison Russell continued his resurgence at the plate with a tiebreaking home run and the Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4 on Thursday night.
Russell has gone deep in back-to-back games and is 5 for 10 after going 1 for 24 to start the postseason. Anthony Rizzo is also connecting, with five hits and a homer over the past two games after going 2 for 26. Javier Baez continues to come through with big hits and making sensational plays at second base.
Now, it’s up to Kershaw to cool off the Cubs.
The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance this postseason and has been erasing a reputation for struggling in the playoffs. He came through with two decent starts against Washington in the NLDS and closed out the series-clinching win.
He was nothing short of spectacular against Chicago in Game 2, pitching two-hit ball over seven innings before Kenley Jansen closed out a 1-0 victory.
Kershaw was ready to pitch Thursday on three days’ rest. He’ll get five between starts instead, though he will be pitching for the fourth time in 12 days.
”We’re down a game, but we’ve won on the road before,” manager Dave Roberts said. ”We’ve won two games before. And I think that for us it’s an isolated focus on Game 6. We get a rested Kersh. So with that, we feel good.”