Nightengale: Cubs, one win from World Series, set to finish job this time

LOS ANGELES — Here they are once again, sensing it, smelling it, wrapping themselves around it.

Just one more victory, and for the first time since 1945, the Chicago Cubs will be in the World Series.

The Cubs, who knocked off the Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-4, to take a 3-2 lead in the National League Series championship, have been at this juncture before, of course.

They were just one victory away from the World Series in 2003 against the Florida Marlins, and had two chances to win it at Wrigley Field, with aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood lined up, and blew it.

They were one victory away in 1984, needing to win just one of three games in San Diego against the Padres, and went home.

Now, here they are once again, in a different time, a different era, and certainly a different team, needing to win just one of possibly two games this weekend to send Wrigleyville into hysteria.

One victory, and it will instantly go down as the greatest day in Wrigley Field history, setting off a celebration that will last until Tuesday when they play the Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of the World Series.

“It will be epic," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “I mean, as it should be. I have a lot of friends in Chicago who are diehard fans.

“They deserve this moment."

Oh, and about the burden of trying erase 108 years of history that has haunted this franchise?

“(Expletive) history," said Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, who would pitch Sunday if needed in Game 7.

Forget the Billy goats, black cats, Steve Bartman and Leon Durham.


Forget Dodgers three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who awaits them on Saturday, too.

No need to bring up Rich Hill, who dazzled them in Game 2, and would pitch if there’s a Game 7 on Sunday.

The Cubs believe nothing can possibly stop them now.

“I’m not a big history guy," Cubs catcher David Ross said. “I don’t care. The history thing is lost on me. I didn’t make good grades as a kid in history, either."

Yet, there’s not a soul who has ever donned a Cubs uniform who doesn’t know about their history.

Seventy-one years have passed since they last won the National League pennant, earning the right to play in the World Series. One hundred eight years have gone by without winning it.

That’s the history that burns inside all of the Cubs, knowing that if they can win the pennant, and then the World Series, it will be one of the most celebrated championships in sports history.

Yet, the Cubs’ kiddie corps has been playing with all of the pressure of trying to get one more beer before last call. Shortstop Addison Russell, 22, homered for the second consecutive game, breaking open a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning. Third baseman Kris Bryant, 24, had another double, and already is the franchise leader with 10 extra-base hits in the postseason. First baseman Anthony Rizzo, 27, had two more hits, including a double. Second baseman Javier Baez, 23, had three hits, two doubles, and three RBI.

They have feasted on the Dodgers’ embattled bullpen, hitting .313 with 17 RBI against their relievers, compared to just .169 with seven RBI against their starters.

And, oh, yeah, there's their old guy, 32-year-old Jon Lester, just so happens to be pitching better than at any time in his career. He gave up just five hits and one run in seven innings, and now is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA in his three starts this postseason. He’s also the first pitcher in baseball history to be 3-0 in Game 5 starts in best-of-seven series.

“He’s pitching as good as I’ve seen in my life,’’ said Ross, who won a World Series title with Lester in Boston. “He’s a big-game pitcher. He won two World Series. Game 1 starter of the Red Sox. Big markets. Thrown no-hitters. Battled cancer.

“Pretty good resume.’’

It’s why the Cubs shelled out $155 million to Lester two years ago, even breaking club policy by giving him a no-trade clause, preparing for this exact moment.

They even sent a recruiting video to his house, including a scene that actually showed him standing on the mound.

For Game 7 of the World Series.


“That’s why I came here,’’ Lester said, “to break that curse. That was the selling point to me. To bring a World Series back to Chicago.’’

It’s the reason, too, why Cubs outfielder Ben Zobrist refuses to wear his Kansas City Royals World Series championship ring from a year ago, stashing it safely at home.

Nothing personal.

“People ask me all of the time, “Why don’t you wear your ring?’ ‘’Zobrist said. “I said, “That was last year. We’re trying to do something different.

“So I’m keeping this finger free.’’

Zobrist, who grew up a Cubs’ fan in Eureka, Ill., listening to Harry Caray on WGN, turned down at least three higher contract offers this past winter, to sign with the Cubs. He knows the Cubs’ dubious history in these big moments, and is ready to embrace all of it. It was not much different than a year ago, when he was a member of the Royals’ first World Series championship team since 1985.

“We heard about it in the World Series,’’ Zobrist said, “but obviously not to the level that it is in Chicago, with people thinking about it and talking about it all of the time.

“It’s one of the reasons I signed here. I knew the history. And I wanted to be part of something special that hasn’t been done in a long, long time. It’s been an elusive championship.

“Everybody knows the history here. But it really doesn’t matter to us. This is a new year. A new time in the organization.

“We’re focused on what we can do as a ball club, not what anyone else has done in the past.’’

History awaits.

The Cubs can’t wait to rewrite it.

  Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale and Facebook

PHOTOS: National League Championship Series

Copyright 2016 USA TODAY Sports


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