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 stay 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 NL Championship Series, the Cubs ended a 70-year pennant drought.
“I still believe that in seasons to come, people are going to believe more easily,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re not going to look for the next shoe to drop. They’re going to believe something good’s going to occur, as opposed to something bad.”
Now, the Cubs will take aim at silencing another dry spell, the most notorious in American sports. They face the Indians in the World Series in hopes of winning their first championship since 1908.
“It’s a battle of history,” Cubs centerfielder Dexter Fowler said of the Indians, who have not won since 1948.
Cubs righthander Kyle Hendricks surrendered just two hits in 7 1⁄3 shutout innings. In the game of his life, he was brilliant. And against Kershaw, the Cubs looked every bit like the 103-win juggernaut that stands on the brink of rewriting their own sordid past.
“This club, it doesn’t matter what doubts may be out there,” Ben Zobrist said. “We believe we’re going to get it done.”
The last time Kershaw took the mound, he tossed a masterpiece in Game 2. But working on extra rest in Game 6, he lacked feel and often missed high, where the Cubs could inflict damage. Kershaw was chased after five innings, throttled for five runs (four earned).
“I’d be lying to you if I said we weren’t seeking revenge,” said Fowler, who scored on Kris Bryant’s RBI single to make it 1-0 in the first.
The Cubs made it 2-0 when Andrew Toles dropped a fly ball in left and Zobrist flicked a sacrifice fly to center. In the second, Fowler knocked in Addison Russell, giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead.
Later, Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo bashed insurance homers. Down 5-0, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled the great Kershaw, another sign that seven decades of darkness would end. A jittery Wrigley Field cheered once more, then settled in for a countdown to history.
“You could see the anticipation,” Maddon said.
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.
“We’ve been believing all year,” Russell said, “and the moment’s here.”
A throng of 42,386 rose to its feet when it became official on Yasiel Puig’s double-play grounder. The ancient ballpark rattled. Baseball’s most tortured fan base finally could breathe.
“I could not believe it,” said Russell, who started the game-ending double play. “I just remember jumping up for joy and hugging my teammates.”
The Cubs stormed the mound. Some were cloaked in white W flags, the same one that flies after victories here. Javier Baez and Jon Lester were named co-MVPs of the series before the Cubs retreated to their clubhouse for a celebration.
Their last pennant had come near the end of World War II, a time of black and white newsreels and big band swing. This time, they staged an impromptu rave, pumping their fists to the beat of the techno music bouncing off the walls.
Droplets of beer and champagne dripped from the ceiling, warping the red and blue lights that illuminate the Cubs logo suspended above. The room looked purple. Theo Epstein, the architect of it all, couldn’t take two steps without getting drenched.
Hours before first pitch, fans congregated outside of “The Friendly Confines,” drawn to a neighborhood that has hosted futility for decades. More than an hour after the game, they refused to leave the stands, savoring a night they could barely comprehend.
“Getting here and really not paying attention to the superficial nonsense, the superstition that really has dragged a lot of peoples’ minds down, just to escape that is great,” Maddon said. “I think perception has changed.”