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 Dodgers in the N.L. 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 N.L. 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 N.L. 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.Hewas 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.”
But it’s the Cubs who are in position to move on.
World War II had just ended the last time they won the pennant, and the World Series that year is remembered as much for a goat and a curse as it is for the Detroit Tigers winning in seven games.
The Cubs angered Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis when they asked him to leave Game 4 because the odor of his pet goat Murphy was bothering fans. Sianis supposedly placed a curse on the franchise, and since then, it’s been mostly losing with a few close calls for the franchise.
The Cubs had a 2-0 lead against San Diego in the 1984 NLCS, only to see the Padres win the final three games in that best-of-five series.
Thirteen years ago, the Cubs returned home up 3-2 over the Marlins in the NLCS. And, well, fans still have nightmares over that one.
Chicago was five outs from the World Series with Mark Prior on the mound only to see everything come apart.
A fan named Steve Bartman reached up for Luis Castillo’s foul as Moises Alou leaned into the stands.
The ball deflected off Bartman’s hands. Alou went wild. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez later booted a potential inning-ending double play. Prior melted down on the mound.
The Cubs lost that game, and they went on to drop the series finale even though they had Kerry Wood starting.
“We’ve heard the history, but at the same time we’re trying to make history,” Dexter Fowler said.
Salazar could return
After weeks of being broken and bloodied, the Indians’ pitching staff may have reinforcements in the World Series.
Starter Danny Salazar, who hasn’t pitched since Sept. 9 because of tightness in his right forearm, has thrown well in recent bullpen sessions and might be able to pitch for the Indians for the first time in this postseason.
Manager Terry Francona said Salazar has “let it go” during some recent workouts and has not been restricted to throwing only fastballs and changeups.
“I think he’s ready to pitch,” Francona said as the A.L. champions awaited their Series opponent.
Salazar will throw a three-inning simulated game Saturday and the Indians will assess his status before deciding whether to have him on their World Series roster. Salazar went 11-6 with a 3.87 ERA in 25 starts, but Francona said it’s possible the hard-throwing right-hander could be used in relief.
“I think the good news is if Danny pitches, and he pitches healthy and he’s throwing the ball over the plate, we have a really good pitcher for however amount of innings he’s built up for, which can potentially help us,” he said.
The loss of Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, who broke his right hand when he was hit by a line drive Sept. 17, has forced Francona to juggle his rotation and be creative with a bullpen which has been extraordinary in October.
But a healthy Salazar would give Francona an interesting weapon as he might be able to pair him with rookie Ryan Merritt for a start or use him with Mike Clevinger.
The Indians are also hoping Trevor Bauer will be available after his Game 4 start in the AL Championship Series lasted less than an inning when his stitched right pinkie opened up and he had to be replaced because of excessive bleeding.
Bauer sliced his finger open while repairing a drone prior to the ALCS, an unusual accident that put added strain on Cleveland’s staff.
Bauer said Friday that his finger is healing and he’s confident the added rest before the series opens will allow him to pitch. The quirky right-hander was asked when he’d be ready.
“Game 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7,” he said.
Francona was told of Bauer’s comments.
“That would be a little better than the last series,” he said sarcastically.
Francona said the team met with hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham to discuss Bauer’s progress. After Bauer workout out on Friday, Graham was going to add another suture.
“He thinks it’s healing really good, there’s just that one area down at the bottom where the skin isn’t quite as healthy as the rest of it,” Francona said. “So he’s going to suture it back up so it won’t bleed. That’s really the only issue. And he’s very confident that this is not going to be an issue.”
Indians ace Corey Kluber is expected to start Tuesday’s Series opener, but Francona has not made any formal announcement as he wants to get through the next two days before setting his rotation.
Fans send wedding gifts
Indians rookie pitcher Ryan Merritt said he and his fiancee, Sarah, have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity from Cleveland fans for sending wedding gifts.
Merritt emerged as an unlikely postseason star after pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings on Wednesday in Toronto, helping the Indians win the pennant and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
Merritt initially thought the gifts were a gag before realizing that fans had found the couple’s bridal registry and were thanking him. The 24-year-old joked that there aren’t enough gifts left for his friends to buy.
Merritt’s wedding is Jan. 27 in Minnesota. He has no plans to extend his guest list, but said “if more people want to come, I guess they can come. I don’t care who shows up.”
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