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Dodgers reach first World Series since 1988 after Kiké Hernandez’s three HRs, seven RBIs

The Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez reacts after hitting a

The Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez reacts after hitting a home run off during Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. Credit: AP / Matt Slocum

CHICAGO — The Dodgers gathered in the back of the batting cage near the clubhouse, their soaked bodies pressed together, demanding that the men responsible for this celebration take their bows. They chanted names.

There was the ace, Clayton Kershaw. There was the architect, Andrew Friedman. There was the hero, Kiké Hernandez, whose three homers on Thursday night punctuated an 11-1 thrashing of the Cubs.

By virtue of winning the National League Championship Series in five games, the Dodgers are going to the World Series for the first time in 29 years.

“Every single night, it’s been a different guy coming up big,” said a champagne-soaked Hernandez, who knocked in seven runs. “Tonight, it was my night.”

Hernandez seemed to know it. The 26-year-old Swiss army knife of a ballplayer sought out Kershaw before the game. He had a promise to the three-time Cy Young Award winner. “Hey,” Kershaw said later, quoting Hernandez. “I got your back.”

Hours later, the Cubs were dethroned as world champions. Kershaw gave up a run in six innings. Justin Turner — once jettisoned by the Mets — and Chris Taylor were named series co-MVPs. And Hernandez became the 10th player in history with three homers in a postseason game, joining the likes of Albert Pujols, Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth.

The big blow came in the third, when a stunned crowd watched Hernandez point to his father in the stands after his grand slam landed in the basket in right-center. He also hit a solo homer in the second and a two-run shot in the ninth.

Now the Dodgers have a chance to end a championship drought that has stretched since 1988, when Kirk Gibson on one leg changed the complexion of an entire World Series with a stunning walk-off home run.

That plight hasn’t inspired the same hand-wringing as the generational curse that once plagued the Red Sox. Nor has it stirred as much angst as the darkness that once enveloped the Cubs. Perhaps Los Angeles is too glitzy and glamorous to be lovable. The pain, however, has endured all the same.

“It’s huge, obviously,” said Turner, a native of Southern California who signed an extension to remain with the team that gave him a chance to revive his career. “It’s been a long time coming. This is the reason I came back.”

The Dodgers have appeared in the playoffs 11 times since 1988. They reached the league championship series five times in the last 10 seasons. Until Thursday night, they had not advanced. Finally, a city exhaled. “The owners of the bar, [they’re] going to make a lot of money tonight,” Yasiel Puig joked.

Over the years, ownership has passed from a family (the O’Malleys) to a corporation (Fox) to another family (the McCourts) to a well-heeled consortium (Guggenheim, fronted by Magic Johnson). Leadership in the general manager’s office has gone from the new school (Paul DePodesta) to the old school (Ned Colletti) and back to the new school (Friedman).

Theirs has been a journey through a gilded wilderness. The Dodgers have consistently ranked among the game’s biggest spenders. They began the season with a payroll of $242 million, the highest in baseball, even more than the Yankees team they could face in the World Series.

That investment finally might pay off in a season in which one of baseball’s flagship franchises has returned to the game’s premier showcase. It is an organization steeped in tradition, one that still can trace a direct line back to Brooklyn.

As the Dodgers prepared for Game 5, 90-year-old Tommy Lasorda looked on from the field, adorned in a jacket of his beloved Dodger blue. He pitched for Brooklyn, managed Los Angeles to two world championships, then remained as a mentor.

Lasorda’s passion for the Dodgers still burns, a reflection of a loyal fan base that he said is owed a championship for nearly three decades of waiting.

“That’s in the past,” he said in the champagne-soaked batting cage. “Right now, we’re here. That’s what counts.”

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