Hollywood & Vines: LA wins NLCS at Wrigley!
CHICAGO -- Clayton Kershaw was born in the spring of 1988, and that fall, Orel Hershiser shut out the Mets to clinch the Dodgers' previous National League pennant. It seemed fitting that Kershaw was on the mound Thursday night at Wrigley Field, leading Los Angeles back to the World Series for the first time since that memorable October of '88.
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Hershiser, though, didn't get the offensive support Kershaw did on Thursday night. Enrique Hernandez matched Major League postseason records with three home runs and seven RBIs -- his grand slam in the third inning breaking it open -- to back Kershaw and power the Dodgers to an 11-1 victory in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World and eliminate the defending World Series champion Cubs.
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Los Angeles will now await the winner of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Astros. Game 1 of the best-of-seven World Series presented by YouTube TV will be Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium -- a result of the Dodgers having the best regular-season record in the first year that determines home-field advantage in the Fall Classic.
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"Up there with getting married and having kids, it's right up there with one of the best days of my life," Kershaw said of reaching the Fall Classic. "Winning the World Series is really all that we play this game for. All the individual stuff is great, but at the end of the day, I just want to win a World Series. If we win, I might retire, so I might just call it a career. It's a special thing, and I know that I'm not taking that for granted."
Hernandez is the first Dodgers player with three home runs in a postseason game, the 10th in MLB history, the first in the NLCS since the Pirates' Bob Robertson in Game 2 in 1971, and the first to do it in any LCS game since the Angels' Adam Kennedy in Game 5 of the 2002 American League Championship Series.
"Are you sure that's a record? I don't know. It's unbelievable. It's amazing," said Hernandez, whose cancer-survivor father came from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to watch his son.
"When Kenley [Jansen] and I signed back, we did a press conference at the stadium, and both of us talked about unfinished business and wanting to bring a championship back to L.A. and bring a World Series back to L.A., and we accomplished that," said Justin Turner, who was named co-MVP of the NLCS with Chris Taylor. "There's a lot of work in front of us. We're still not done yet. We're going to enjoy this tonight and start preparing for the next round."
Last year, the Cubs boasted the best record in the Majors, and they beat the Dodgers in six games in the NLCS en route to winning the franchise's first World Series championship since 1908. This year, it's the Dodgers who had the best regular-season record, as well as one of the most dominating pitching staffs.
"We're right where we wanted to be since the start of the year," said Taylor.
"It's a disappointing season that we didn't go to the World Series," Chicago pitcher Jonathan Lester said, "but whenever you get on the plane to go home or get in the car to go home, you have to look at the positives, and the positives are we gave ourselves a chance. It didn't happen this year. We got beat by a better team. You've got to tip your hat sometimes."
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Kershaw, a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner looking for his first World Series ring, held the Cubs to three hits -- including a homer by Kristopher Bryant with one out in the fourth -- over six innings. All seven runs off Kershaw in the postseason came via the home run.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he was thrilled for Kershaw, whose October struggles are being exorcised.
"The first thing that comes to mind is Clayton and how long he's been a Dodger and how much he's wanted this opportunity to win a championship," said Roberts.
Chicago relied on the long ball. All of its runs in the series came on homers.
"I think if you look at the series, they did exactly what they needed to do to beat us: They executed their plan, pitched great and their bullpen was lights-out," Bryant said. "That makes it tough to score runs."
The Cubs had won all five potential elimination games since the start of the 2016 postseason, including Wednesday's Game 4. Not this time. They needed starter Jose Quintana to go deep, but the lefty lasted two-plus innings. Quintana gave up a run in both the first and second, then served up four straight hits in the third before he was pulled. Hernandez, who led off the second with his first postseason home run, connected on his slam against Hector Rondon with one out in the third.
Hernandez had two hits in eight postseason at-bats prior to Thursday's game. The home runs and RBIs had to provide some relief for Hernandez, whose family was airlifted from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck the island. He had "Pray for P.R." written on his cap.
"Obviously people back home are having a really hard time right now, and for me to be able to do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez. "My body is here, but my mind is kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on. To be able to do this in the States like this and against the Cubs that beat us last year, and to get us to the World Series, it's amazing. I honestly can't put it it into words. All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."
Hernandez's two-run blast in the ninth came off Mike Montgomery, who recorded the Cubs' final out in Game 7 of last year's World Series. As the ball sailed into the left-field bleachers, Dodgers players jumped out of the dugout to begin their celebration.
Los Angeles survived the series without injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, and outscored Chicago, 28-8, in the five games.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Grand slam: Taylor doubled to lead off the third and scored on Turner's single to open a 3-0 lead. The Dodgers were just getting started. Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig each singled to chase Quintana. Rondon took over and struck out John Forsythe, but then served up Hernandez's grand slam, which opened a 7-0 lead.
'Penmanship: It was clear the Dodgers' approach against Quintana was to be aggressive so they could force the Cubs to go to their bullpen early. It paid off. Taylor led off with a nine-pitch at-bat that resulted in a walk, and he scored one out later on Bellinger's double. Quintana needed 26 pitches to get through the first, and he had thrown 50 when he was lifted. John Lackey, who may retire after this season, entered after Rondon and pitched two innings in relief.
Lackey chose not to speak to reporters afterward. Maddon has known the right-hander since they were together with the Angels in 2002, and they shared a moment following the game.
"I think that might be it," Maddon said of Lackey. "I'm not 100 percent sure he's not coming back next year. ... Hopefully it's not [the end], but if it is, having that chance to be with him in that moment is pretty special for me. Maybe not special for him, but special for me."
"I know he's wearing his Dodger jacket up there and looking down on us and smiling. I know that smile very well. I thought of him a lot in that ninth inning when the game settled down." -- Roberts, who lost his father in March
"The better team won over the course of these five games. They played really well. They kind of out-pitched us and everything else. So give them credit. Dave Roberts and their entire staff, I just want to say, 'Congratulations.' [We] know what it feels like coming off of last year -- we were celebrating versus them in this exact same spot. So they've had themselves a spectacular year, and I want to wish them all well in the World Series." -- Maddon
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Hernandez is the first Dodgers player with a multi-homer postseason game since Adrian Gonzalez hit two in Game 5 of the 2013 NLCS.
Hernandez's slam was the fourth in Dodgers postseason history, and he joins Ron Cey, Dusty Baker and James Loney in doing so. Loney's also came at Wrigley Field, in 2008.
Bryant's homer in the fourth was his sixth career postseason blast, and he's tied with Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber for the most in Cubs franchise history.