TODAY'S PAPER
Overcast 30° Good Morning
Overcast 30° Good Morning
SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Cursed Cubs have finally arrived in the World Series

Fans hold up a sign during Game

Fans hold up a sign during Game 6 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field on Oct. 22, 2016 in Chicago. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jamie Squire

CHICAGO

For 70 years, everyone wondered what it would be like if the Cubs, baseball’s most forlorn team, its Charlie Brown franchise, actually got back to the World Series.

And now we know.

Here’s what it looked like Saturday night at Wrigley Field, previously known as the home office of dashed hopes and broken dreams. Pure joy, spilling from a raucous crowd of 42,386 that made this ancient ballpark stadium shimmy and shake, like the ivy-covered walls were dancing along.

Despite all that built-up anxiety, the frayed nerves, the fear of what that next wind-blown pop-up might bring, there was a different vibe Saturday night. Even with the Dodgers sending out the best pitcher of a generation in Clayton Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young winner, for some reason we felt an air of inevitability, that the Cubs, after 103 wins during the regular season, would not tempt fate with a Game 7.

They did not, and in a twist for the ages, it was a lucky bounce, a disastrous error by the Dodgers, that set the tone for the evening. In the first inning, Anthony Rizzo’s deep drive clanged off the glove of leftfielder Andrew Toles for a two-base error that set up the Cubs’ second run, the first tug at the string that ultimately led to Kershaw’s unraveling.

The Cubs had been cursed in the past by a goat, a black cat and a Steve Bartman. But during Game 6, it was their turn for a break or two, and they kept pressuring Kershaw until he was done after just five innings, taking a 5-0 lead powered in part by home runs from Rizzo and Willson Con tre ras.

One victory shy of the World Series, and the opportunity to end a 107-year title drought, the Cubs pressed forward. After eight months following Joe Maddon’s mantra, “Embrace the Target,” they have worn it proudly this October, using that pressure as fuel to motor past the Giants and now the Dodgers.

“Coming in, we were rated to be the best team in baseball,” Rizzo said, standing on the outfield grass after the clinching 5-0 victory, the fans still cheering in appreciation. “And we were.”

It was better that the Cubs had to go through Kershaw, who humbled them at Wrigley Field in Game 2 with seven scoreless innings, made them feel vulnerable. The Cubs were shut out in their two NLCS losses, and Kershaw — with an additional day of rest leading into Game 6 — seemed to be primed for a repeat performance. Maybe if this had been June or August, Kershaw would have pulled it off.

But not this particular October, which is turning into the Cubs’ statement month, and Kershaw was powerless to stop it. He allowed seven hits and four earned runs in five innings to push his ERA to 6.28 in five career elimination games for the Dodgers. For all Kershaw had done to wipe away his previous October stain, those smudges reappeared Saturday night in Game 6.

Of course, the Cubs had a mission of their own. In the aftermath, Maddon stood on the stage for the trophy presentation, Wrigley still packed, fans still screaming, and tried to process the magnitude of what had just happened. It almost was too soon, too big a shock to the system.

“You’re looking at the ballpark and the fans and the W flags everywhere, and truthfully I do think about everybody,” Maddon said. “I think about the fans and their parents and their grandparents and great-grandparents and everything that’s been going on here for a while. It’s overwhelming and it’s awesome.”

To chase the ghosts for good, or at least ward them off until the World Series, the Cubs employed Aroldis Chapman for the final five outs. Chapman, who began this season with the Yankees, kept slinging 102-mph fastballs until he got Yasiel Puig to bounce into the game-ending double play.

“I’m very fortunate and blessed,” Chapman said through his interpreter, “that I was the man to bring this team back to the World Series.”

Seventy years later. The Cubs did it. And as the fans flooded the streets surrounding Wrigley, creating a giddy gridlock, another thought occurred to us amid the bedlam.

Imagine if they win the World Series.

New York Sports