Goat of confidence! Cubs like WS chances

October 23rd, 2016

CHICAGO -- Next year? Did somebody say next year?

That's so 2015 for the Cubs.

Next year is now.

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Manager Joe Maddon and his players have known that since February, when they reported to Spring Training. They served notice on the rest of the National League with a 103-win season and made it official on a picture-perfect Saturday night at Wrigley Field, riding ' blank-stare focus and precision pitching to a relatively angst-free, 5-0, pennant-clinching victory over the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.

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There were no black cats in the on-deck circle or headphones-wearing fans reaching out for foul balls. No goats were admitted to the ballpark, and if any were turned away, no one cared.

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And because they beat the Dodgers -- outscoring them, 23-4, over the final 24 innings to dig themselves out of a hole -- the Cubs are off to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

"They lifted that gigantic gorilla off a lot of our backs," said Bob Dernier, who played center field for the Cubs in 1984, when they lost the NLCS to the Padres despite leading, 2-0. "They did it with style. That's the way you do it."

's leadoff double and 's single gave the Cubs the lead after 's first seven pitches. Kershaw would allow runs in four of the five innings he pitched, the last two on solo homers by rookie catcher and cornerstone first baseman .

Hendricks and closer not only made sure there was no repeat of the late-game meltdown in the infamous Game 6 against the Marlins in 2003, they avoided the drama of the '45 clincher. In that game, the Pirates had the tying run on third and the winning run on second when Paul Ericsson got pinch-hitter Tommy O'Brien to take a called third strike, giving the Cubs a three-game lead over the Cardinals with two games left in the season.

Hendricks and the hitters who attacked Kershaw from the first inning through the fifth kept the 42,386 at Wrigley almost giddy throughout the evening.

"That was as good of a sporting atmosphere as I've ever seen," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "An hour before the first pitch, everyone was ready to go, and the whole game, it just kept building and building. I thought our guys played one of the best games of the year. We got the lead, grinded out at-bats against Kershaw all night. Kyle was unbelievable, changing speeds. He pitched like the Major League ERA leader tonight, for sure."

Tom Ricketts' vision; the roster-building genius of Theo Epstein, scouting director Jason McLeod and Hoyer; and Maddon's genius in handling his gifted players paid off with a league championship only four years after a 101-loss season. But everyone involved will tell you they're only halfway to the Holy Grail, which is the first successful World Series since 1908.

"Four more wins," Ricketts said. "We have a great team, have a lot of momentum, a great manager. I'm looking forward to those four wins. Let's hope we can get it done this year."

Four wins -- 108 outs -- to break a 108-year-old curse (using balls that have 108 double stitches).

One way or another, one team is going to end a monumental championship drought. The Indians haven't won since the Indians of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Joe Gordon and Lou Boudreau beat the Boston Braves in 1948.

, who has given up two runs in 23 innings this postseason and was named co-MVP along with , is set to face the Indians' on Tuesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

"What could be better for baseball?" Ricketts asked. "I have a lot of respect for the Cleveland Indians, a lot of friends there. I'm anxious to get there. On top of that, we beat a great Dodger team. Great organization. Give a lot of credit to the Dodgers and the Giants. We're going through the tough teams. Let's get one more. Four more wins."

It was fitting that the final out was a double play turned by 22-year-old shortstop and 23-year-old second baseman Baez. Maddon went with five players 24 or younger against Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young winner, and that recipe cooked up a 3-0 lead in the first two innings for Hendricks, the craftsman who was turned down by Stanford and traded to the Cubs from the Rangers when he was in the high Class A Carolina League.

"[Hendricks is] as stoic as it gets," Hoyer said. "He's very calm. He went out there and executed as well as he can execute. The information we had was [that] his makeup was off the charts. That's really why we made the deal. His stuff is not eye-popping. It's about command and execution, and he has the command and intelligence to pull it off."

Hoyer loved how the game ended. A walk by Chapman put on first with one out in the ninth, which set up the last bit of defensive flash in the series.

hit a grounder to deep short. Russell fielded it cleanly and made a nice throw to Baez, who fired it to Rizzo for the game-ending double play. Baez shared the MVP honors with Lester as much because of his play in the field as for his four doubles and five RBIs.

"Look at the lineup card today," Hoyer said. "When you go Baez, Contreras, Russell, [Albert] Almora at the bottom of the order, not to mention Rizzo and [Kris] Bryant, that's who we are. We're a veteran team in some ways pitching-wise, but we're a young offensive team, and we're really athletic in the field. It is fitting those guys turn that double play."

While his team was taking care of business on the field, Ricketts was walking the Wrigley Field stands -- a habit he began almost immediately after purchasing the franchise in 2009. He's never going to forget the joy he experienced on this magical night.

Victory has seldom brought about so many tears as it did on the night the Cubs punched their return ticket to the World Series.

"My poor little 10-year-old daughter cried for joy," Ricketts said in the celebration, standing near the pitcher's mound. "That was pretty amazing. Walking through the upper deck tonight, high-fiving people, nobody was worried, everybody was confident. People really believed in this team. Just the fact that after all this hard work, all the work done by all the people in this organization, it's just great to have this moment to pay the fans back for all the support they've given us."

Job well done, by everyone.