Cubs finish off Dodgers to reach World Series

Cubs advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945 with 5-0 win over Los Angeles

CHICAGO — The fans here leaned forward in their seats Saturday night, their hands pressed together as if in prayer. Standing seven-deep in the bars of Wrigleyville, the crowds throbbed at every image of joy that flickered across the television screens.

In the firehouse across the street, fans dressed in blue mingled with firefighters with nowhere to go, as if this city had resolved to sit still until the final out. Generational torment had taught them the folly of expecting something good.

So, they waited for the Cubs to blow it, waited for the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw to steel his nerve and crush a dream, waited for the chill of curses and billy goats and Bartmans to render it all a nightmare.

They waited for something that did not happen.

The Chicago Cubs might be lovable, but they are losers no more, champions of the National League for the first time since 1945. After beating the Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, the Cubs ended a 71-year pennant drought.

Now they will take aim at silencing another, the most notorious in American sports. The Cubs face the Indians in the World Series in hopes of their first championship since 1908.

Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks surrendered just two hits in 7 1/3 shutout innings. And against Kershaw, the Cubs looked every bit like the 103-win juggernaut that now stands on the brink of history.

Kershaw was chased after five innings, throttled for five runs (four earned) on seven hits. Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo bashed homers, ensuring that baseball’s most tortured fan base could finally breathe.

The Cubs had been 0-for-6 in the NLCS when one win away from the World Series. But on this night, that lingering pain would be washed away by champagne and tears.

A throng of 42,386 rose to its feet when it became official on Yasiel Puig’s double-play grounder. The Cubs stormed the pitcher’s mound, the beginning of a party all those years in the making.

Hours before first pitch, fans congregated outside of “The Friendly Confines,” drawn to a neighborhood that has hosted futility for decades. A massive police presence greeted them, with officers on horseback stationed to maintain order.

As the Cubs finished their warmups 10 minutes before first pitch, Phil Collins’ iconic “In The Air Tonight” blasted from the stadium loudspeakers. “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord,” the old song went. “And I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life … “

In center field, all by himself, Dexter Fowler ducked his head into the famous Ivy. Perhaps seeking a moment of calm before the chaos, he did not move. When he finally emerged, he raised his fist to the sky and jogged off. The crowd let out a roar. They had done enough waiting.

The last time the great Kershaw took the mound he tossed a masterpiece in Game 2. The Cubs needed seven innings to accumulate two hits. They never scored.

In Game 6, the Cubs could not wait. Fowler ripped a high slider for a leadoff double just inside the right-field line. Kris Bryant followed with a run-scoring single, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead.

Rizzo lifted a drive to left, where Andrew Toles took his eye off the ball for an instant. It was enough to invite calamity. It hit his glove and trickled away. With runners on second and third, Ben Zobrist flicked a sacrifice fly to center. The Cubs, intent on jumping ahead, had a 2-0 lead. Kershaw needed 30 pitches in the inning and he escaped less any more damage.

The ancient ballpark rattled. It was only the first inning.

Everything broke right for the Cubs. In the second, when the Dodgers’ Josh Reddick reached on a rare error by Javier Baez, he was picked off by Hendricks. At the time, Joc Pederson was at the plate and some fireworks exploded beyond the center field scoreboard, distracting him when the first pitch of his at-bat arrived. It was a free strike and he later struck out.

Kershaw had been so precise in his first outing in this series. But working on extra rest, he lacked feel. He missed high, where the Cubs could inflict damage. His sliders spun over the plate. Addison Russell jumped on one to lead off the second with a double. Two batters later, he scored on Fowler’s second hit, an RBI single to leftfield that made it 3-0.