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Cubs 5, Dodgers 0: At Last

You did not dream this. The Cubs are National League champions!

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

For seven decades, the Cubs, and we, their fans, have been like that smart, friendly, knowledgeable but somewhat geeky, nerdy high school guy who dreamed of taking the prettiest, most desirable girl in the school to the big dance.

Oh, sure, she liked him well enough. Flirted with him at times, smiled at him in the hallway, but in the end, there was always someone she found more handsome, or smarter, or stronger, and sometimes she was even cruel, letting him think he’d be the one, only to crush his hopes at the very last minute.

One year, she didn’t go at all, and he and she and everyone else sat at home.

And still, he waited, and waited, and waited. Patiently, most of the time, as the years went by, at times numbingly so, discouragingly so, at some truly low times he even felt like giving up. But still, he waited, because he just knew someday, one day, would be his day.

Saturday night, she said “Yes.”

The word “raucous” to describe a sports crowd that’s loud and happy and thrilled has become somewhat of a cliché, and so I won’t use it. There really are no words to accurately describe what it felt like to be among the 42,386 who packed every single seat at Wrigley Field Saturday night, screaming, yelling, crying, yes, real tears, men and women who’d known each other for years (and even total strangers) tightly embracing each other, the pain of seven decades almost magically vanishing. In 2015, during Pat Hughes’ radio call of the Cubs’ division-series clincher over the Cardinals, just before the final out was recorded, he said, “I wish all of you could be right here at this moment.”

That’s what I would have wished for every single one of you, that you could have been inside a ballpark filled with excitement, with happiness, with thrills that few alive have ever seen. To say the ballpark was “loud” does it an injustice. I have never heard Wrigley Field that loud, but the decibel level wasn’t even the most important thing.

It was the joy. Because in the end, why are we sports fans, baseball fans, Cubs fans, if this game we all love doesn’t bring us joy?

Saturday night, the joy spread everywhere throughout Wrigley Field, and to Cubs fans everywhere.

Here’s Pat’s radio call of the final outs Saturday night:

The venerable old ballyard at Clark & Addison, now undergoing a renovation that will preserve its beauty and history while adding modern amenities, had not seen such a scene in 84 years. That’s right, 1932 was the last time the Cubs clinched a National League pennant at Wrigley Field, and while I’m reasonably certain no reader of this site was there that day, I can’t imagine the scene at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, September 20, 1932, when the Cubs clinched the N.L. pennant by defeating the Pirates in the first game of a doubleheader was anywhere near the pandemonium that the double play turned by the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth Saturday night brought to the North Side of Chicago, and to Cubs fans all over the city, state, country and world.

You all know the details by now of the Cubs’ 5-0 win over the Dodgers that put them in the World Series, giving them the National League Championship Series four games to two.

“Put them in the World Series.” You know, I still can’t quite believe I am typing those words and not writing fiction. It hasn’t totally sunk in yet -- when I got home I turned on MLB Network’s postgame show and saw Anthony Rizzo, grinning ear to ear, saying exactly those words when asked how he felt. That’s precisely how it feels, right? You saw it, you know it happened, yet you still have a bit of trouble believing it’s reality.

About the ballgame, it was magnificent, and even that word doesn’t quite bring it all home. Kyle Hendricks — well, you all know how much I’ve liked him since well before he came to the major leagues. What a spectacular, wonderful, textbook pitching performance, carving up Dodgers hitters with the changeup they know is coming but they still can’t do anything with it. He struck out seven and induced weak contact, the game plan he always puts in place. Saturday night, it was executed perfectly. I wish he’d been able to complete the game, but I understand what Joe Maddon did when he brought Aroldis Chapman into the game after Hendricks allowed just his second hit of the night, a one-out single by Josh Reddick in the eighth inning. That is, after all, why Chapman was brought to the Cubs in July, to lock down the late innings.

Hendricks left to a joyful ovation, applause 71 years in the making. He might, or might not, win this year’s Cy Young Award, but this game -- this game! — will be remembered forever, the Dartmouth graduate called “The Professor” etched into Cubs lore for all time.

The crowd barely had time to sit down, and many didn’t, before Chapman ended the eighth inning. It took him just three pitches to get Howie Kendrick to hit into a double play.

Were you thinking “five outs” at that time? Because I know I was, and so was Mike, sitting next to me. I think we both felt that once the Cubs got past that “five outs” hump, things — at least in the stands, I don’t think any 2016 Cubs player thought or felt this — would relax and the win would come.

No shenanigans, no odd plays, nothing like that -- three pitches, double play, inning over.

The Dodgers sent up three pinch-hitters in the ninth, and the second, Carlos Ruiz, walked — the only walk of the game.

With one out, it seemed we’d be settling in for a couple of Chapman strikeouts, as he often saves 102 or 103 for last.

Instead, I barely had time to write Yasiel Puig’s name on my scorecard before he bounced Chapman’s first pitch to Addison Russell. Who threw swiftly to Javier Baez. Who relayed to Rizzo.

And the Cubs were pennant winners for the first time in 71 years. My dad will turn 95 in December. He’s often told me of listening to Cubs World Series games on the ship on which he was serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, when the ship was part of the occupation force in Tokyo Bay in October 1945.

There’s another stark reminder of how long this has taken. You’d have to be at least in your 80s or even 90s to have any real, concrete memory of the World Series that Warren Brown, a Chicago sportswriter of the time, said of the war-depleted Cubs and Tigers: “I don’t think either team can win it.”

That’s not the case in 2016. The Cubs are really good. They pounced on Clayton Kershaw early and often, in grand Chicago style. That’s another thing I will always remember about this game. Kershaw’s velocity seemed a bit off, and he could not command the zone, particularly with his curveball, which is normally his out pitch. The Cubs took advantage and executed nearly flawlessly. Dexter Fowler led off the game with a double, and Kris Bryant singled him in -- a 1-0 lead after only seven pitches! Rizzo hit a ball toward left-center that Andrew Toles dropped for a two-base error, moving Bryant to third, and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Ben Zobrist.

The game was over, though none of us knew it at the time. The Cubs added a run in the second on another double, this one by Addison Russell, and a single by Fowler, though he got caught trying to extend that to a double.

No doubt, you heard the mocking “Kerrrr-shaw! Kerrrr-shaw!’ chants going through the stands during his five innings of work. Two home runs punctuated the middle innings and completed the scoring. Willson Contreras slammed one in the fourth that landed below us, just over the left-field ribbon board. It fell back onto the field and Toles flipped it into the stands down the line. Cubs security was in our section asking where the ball went -- Contreras or someone from the Cubs wanted it back -- so we let them know that it had been caught, eventually, by someone wearing a Rizzo jersey. Hope they eventually found it. There’s a real piece of history, a home run ball from a Cubs pennant-clincher.

Rizzo, in the fifth, took ball one from Kershaw, fouled off his second pitch, and then got a fastball down in the zone, actually a pretty good pitch from the Dodgers lefthander. Rizzo went down and got it and yanked it into the right-field bleachers.

Here are both home runs, including both TV and radio calls:

There really was not much doubt about the outcome after that, not with Kershaw out of the game (though Kenley Jansen threw three perfect innings in relief), not with Hendricks pitching the way he was, not with Chapman available. The last few innings simply built up the anticipation, the pleasure, the elation, the bliss, until it burst forth from all corners of the venerable ballyard and outside, too. Chicago police did a pretty good job of controlling the perimeter of the ballpark, not letting anyone into the Sheffield/Waveland area behind the bleachers after the early innings. They tried to close off the area around Clark & Addison, too, but there were just too many revelers and eventually the area was filled with happy Cubs fans, celebrating something 71 years in the making.

One final note on the ballgame: This was just the second time in postseason history that a team had faced only 27 batters in a nine-inning game. Four Dodgers reached base: two on hits, one on an error, one on a walk. Three were erased on double plays, and Hendricks picked off Reddick, who had reached on an error by Baez. The only other postseason game where a team faced the minimum was Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

You might, or might not, recall that Larsen finished his career pitching three games (and not particularly well) for the 1967 Cubs, the team that broke through and briefly led the National League that July, after 20-plus years of awfulness.

And now, the 2016 Cubs matched his feat.

And there are other Cubs I think of on this day: Billy Williams, one of my own personal childhood favorites, who never made it this far, in attendance at Wrigley Field.

And Ernie. And Ron. Oh, how they would have loved this team. Kerry Wood, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch, wore Ron’s jersey to the mound, a touching tribute. You might remember that Wood was the one who had Ron’s jersey hung in the Cubs dugout during the 2003 playoffs. Ron was hospitalized at the time and couldn’t make the WGN radio broadcasts (Steve Stone filled in).

This is how the generations are connected, for us as fans. The current players won in part because they cared not for all the history and media narratives -- they just went out and played their best game, and really, this pennant-winning contest might be the best-played Cubs team game I have ever seen. I won’t ever forget the night of Saturday, October 22, 2016, the night the Cubs won the pennant, on the day that was the latest calendar date baseball had ever been played at Wrigley Field.

That mark’s going to be broken on Friday, my friends, when World Series Game 3 happens.

For the record: Baez and Jon Lester were named co-series MVP’s, and I can’t argue with that, as both made key contributions, Baez with his defense and hitting .318 in the series with four doubles. Lester allowed two runs in 13 innings and shut down the Dodgers in Game 5 until the Cubs could break it open.

A couple of site notes before I close: Heroes & Goats will be along later this morning, along with a special edition of Cub Tracks with local and national reaction to this historic win.

The Cubs are National League champions and are headed to the World Series.

It’s true. It happened. It’s real. Four more wins. Four more. Winning the World Series won’t be easy — never is — as the Cleveland Indians are a very good team with a fine manager (and, of course, many in Cubs management and in the dugout know him well), good hitters and a lockdown bullpen.

I’m ready. Are you? #LetsGo