LOS ANGELES — The Chicago Cubs’ chairs were all wet, with liquid still dropping from the ceiling Wednesday evening, when reporters walked into the visiting clubhouse.
“Oh, that’s from our celebration,’’ said Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur, one of their heroes without stepping to the plate, but simply by lending his bat.
Yes, finally, the Cubs’ historic drought is finally over.
Well, OK, not that one.
The Cubs, having gone 108 years without winning a World Series, and feeling as if it were nearly that long since they last scored a run, seized control of the National League Championship Series by burying the Los Angeles Dodgers, 10-2.
The NLCS is tied at 2-apiece, but considering that Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw can make only one more start - on Saturday in Game 6 at Wrigley Field - the Cubs can finally relax.
They should soon be going to the World Series to face the Cleveland Indians in a classic battle of championship droughts that have lasted a combined 176 years.
This series, barring a Cubs collapse, is over.
They have ace Jon Lester, the Cubs’ Game 1 winner, going Thursday against struggling Kenta Maeda. Then, it’s off to Chicago where Kershaw will pitch Game 6 for the Dodgers. And, if necessary, a Game 7 where reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta will face Rich Hill.
The Cubs have everything perfectly lined up for their first pennant since 1945.
And they can thank Szczur, who’s not even on the playoff roster, to play a vital role in the Cubs’ biggest postseason onslaught since scoring 12 runs in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS.
They had gone a franchise-record 21 consecutive playoff innings without scoring, sending 82 batters to the plate without a run.
Then, in a matter of nine pitches, almost like a shooting meteor in the sky, they had a four-run outburst in the fourth inning, a solo homer in the fifth, and then five more runs and a homer in the sixth.
No one needed the catharsis more than first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Addison Russell. They produced 53 homers and 204 RBI during the year, but in the postseason, were hitting just .057 (3-for-53).
In one night, they doubled their hit total, going 6-for-10 with two homers and five RBI.
Take a bow, Mr. Szczur.
It was Szczur who lent Rizzo his bat in the ninth inning Tuesday night in Game 3, and he broke his slump with a meaningless broken-bat infield single. The bat even broke in pieces, shattering around the infield.
Rizzo struck out his first two at-bats again Wednesday, and now with a feeling of desperation, asked for Szczur’s new bat.
“After two strikeouts,’’ Szczur said, “the next time he went up, I saw him with my bat. I looked over to [teammate] Tommy Stella, and I said, “Watch, he’s going to hit a home run here.’’
Rizzo kept the bat the entire game, the KB17 Marucci model, and then hit a bases-loaded single in the sixth inning, and another single in the eighth inning.
We can guess which bat he’ll be using in Game 5, particularly considering this is no fluke, Szczur says, recalling the time he hit his 30th and 31st homers of the season with his bat. When he finally broke it, Sczur asked for him to autograph it, so he can keep it for a souvenir.
“Personally, I was upset,’’ Rizzo said of his playoff funk, "but what makes our team so great is everyone has each other’s back. I knew that the team was where we needed to be, and we responded in a big way today.
“Our confidence is up.’’
Russell was also given a confidence boost from his agent, Scott Boras, 24 hours earlier, who reminded him of his talent. He noticed a few bat habits, swinging at breaking pitches that weren’t strikes, and taking fastballs away.
“Those were the balls he normally crushes,’’ Boras said. “I reminded him of the time in high school that he hit three home runs, all fastballs away. That was his bread-and-butter.’’
Oh, and Russell’s home run off Dodgers rookie starter Julio Urias?
Yep, a 94-mph fastball on the outside part of the plate that he sent screaming into the night, over the right-center-field wall.
“The guy had 90-some RBI, 20-somme homers,’’ Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said, “that man can hit.
“They don’t sell those at Walgreens.’’
No, and you can’t buy World Series trophies there, either.
You’ve got to earn it, the old-fashioned way, and the Cubs now find themselves just two victories away from the World Series, with their big boys swinging hot bats once again.
“It should help their confidence,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, “there's no question about that. When you going through the moment they were, it's a confidence issue. It always is. I want to believe they're going to show up (Thursday) with a lot more confidence than they showed up with today.’’
Confidence can be a dangerous thing.
“This is just one game,’’ Rizzo said, “but this was definitely a big game for us.’’
One that changed the fate of the NLCS.