CHICAGO – Dexter Fowler sensed a different, yet special feeling Saturday as soon as he walked into the Cubs’ clubhouse.
“I could tell the guys wanted it now,” Fowler said.
Never was that mission so apparent Saturday night as Kyle Hendricks pitched 7 1/3 innings of two-hit ball and a resurgent offense knocked out Clayton Kershaw after five innings to put an exclamation point on a 5-0 victory to capture the National League Championship Series before a delirious Wrigley Field crowd of 42,386.
The Cubs outscored the Dodgers 23-6 in the final three games to win this best-of-seven series 4-2 and claim their first N.L. pennant since 1945.
The ultimate mission of the 2016 season – winning the World Series – starts Tuesday night against the American League champion Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
“I don’t have to be anywhere until Tuesday,” quipped Chairman Tom Ricketts, who hired President Theo Epstein five years ago to build sustainable success for the franchise.
The Cubs’ fundamental blueprint was executed to near perfection from the start, as they outplayed a fundamentally challenged Dodgers outfit.
“We carried out (manager) Joe Maddon’s mission to win every inning,” said hitting coach John Mallee, whose pupils were relentless in attacking Kershaw until the three-time Cy Young Award winner was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
In the first inning, second base wizard Javier Baez chased Andrew Toles out of the baseline to start a double play in the first inning.
Then, in the bottom half of the inning, Kris Bryant poked a low, outside pitch into right field to score Dexter Fowler for the first run. The Cubs capitalized on Toles’ error in left field to score their second run on Ben Zobrist’s a sacrifice fly, marking the first time Kershaw allowed two runs in the first inning this season.
Unlike Game 2, when the three-time Cy Young Award winner needed only 32 pitches to get through the first three innings, the Cubs tested him early as Baez fouled off three two-strike pitches before popping out. Kershaw needed 30 pitches to get out of the first.
The resurgent Addison Russell led of the second with a double and scored on Fowler’s two-out single, and the Cubs added home runs from rookie Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo in the fourth and fifth.
“To perform this well on this stage with all the pressure says a lot about this group,” Mallee said.
The renaissance became more convincing when Contreras led off the fourth with his homer and raised his right hand while running to first.
The Cubs’ looseness was evident from the start, as Russell imitated riding a motorcycle after hitting a leadoff double in the second, and Baez stepped in front of the much taller Rizzo at first to catch Josh Reddick’s popup in the fourth.
For his part, the soft-throwing Hendricks, who emerged from his fifth-starter role as arguably the Cubs’ most dependable pitcher with 16 victories and a major league-low 2.13 ERA, limited the Dodgers to Toles’ single on the game’s first pitch until Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. Hendricks then gave way to Aroldis Chapman despite throwing only 88 pitches and walking none while striking out six.
“It has been a storybook year for him and the entire team,” fellow pitcher Jake Arrieta said.
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