Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cubs End the Curse, Head to World Series

Chicago wins NLCS 4-2

It certainly is "hard not to be romantic about baseball" as the movie Moneyball once said.

For the Chicago Cubs fan, they had waited 71 years for this very moment, and for those who go beyond the last time the Cubs last represented the National League in the Fall Classic, it has been 108 long years since Chicago last won it all.

While there is still work to be for these 2016 Chicago Cubs, they are heading back to the World Series for the first time since 1945. They will square off against the Cleveland Indians, who are gunning for their first World title since 1948.

Two old school mid-western teams and one dream.

The Cubs got the job done by relying on the right arm of Kyle Hendricks who out-dueled Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw with a performance that will go down in NLCS history as one of the best by a starter. It will most certainly be one of the top five efforts in Cubs history.

Hendricks held the Dodgers scoreless over 7.1 innings of work. He allowed only two hits on the night, with the first hit for the Dodgers coming on a lead-off single by Andrew Toles in the first inning. Toles was quickly erased one pitch later on a 6-4-3 double-play grounder to short stop. That was the only time the Dodgers ever threatened to do some damage against Hendricks.

He blew away Los Angeles, taking out the drama in a game that otherwise would have been full of drama with the Cubs going for the first pennant since the Harry S. Truman administration. He shutdown hitters with ease, fooled them with his off-speed stuff, and came back with a deadly fastball that had hitters chasing. In short he made the Cubs relax in that third base dugout.

Offensively, the Cubs went to work early and often for Hendricks, giving the righty two quick runs in the bottom of the first inning. Kris Bryant singled to right to score Dexter Fowler with the first run of the day; then two batters later Ben Zobrist, who won a World Series ring last fall with the Kansas City Royals, plated home another run on a sac fly to center.

Leading 2-0 in the second inning, the Cubs tacked on when Fowler drove home Addison Russell on a RBI single to left to make it 3-0 against the mighty Kershaw.

Wilson Contreras sent Wrigley Field into full throttle party mode in the fourth inning when he deposited a Kershaw pitch into the left field bleachers for a solo shot to make it 4-0.

Finally, Anthony Rizzo corked one to right-center for his second home run of the series to push the Cubs lead to 5-0.

It is important to note that Rizzo, Bryant and Fowler played a huge role in not only the Cubs win on Saturday night, but in the NLCS in general. The trio was a combined 5-for-12 (.416) with three runs scored and three RBI in Game 6. Fowler hit .333 in the series, while Bryant hit .304 and Rizzo .320. With those three hitters turning up the heat against the Dodgers it is easy to see why the Cubs won.

By the eighth inning, Joe Madden pulled Hendricks from the game to a thunderous standing ovation from the Cubs Nation. For a fan base that has been so tortured for so many years, Hendricks gave them the kind of effort they had waited generations for. They never got this effort from Kerry Wood or Mark Pyror when it mattered a little over a decade ago. They didn't get this for their current ace, Jake Arrieta in this LCS. Instead they got this effort from a 26-year old man, who was always the forgotten man in the Cubs rotation.

When you think Cubs starting pitchers in 2016, you think Arrieta and Jon Lester. To be fair Lester was named LCS MVP with good reason, he did beat the Dodgers twice. But, this was Hendricks' night to shine on a national stage and he did in a big way.

Finally, it was up to Aroldis Chapman. The ex-Yankees and Reds closer picked up where Hendricks left off in the eighth inning, giving the Cubs 1.2 innings of no-hit baseball to get lock the door on LA  for good. The final out coming on a double play with the combination of Russell, Baez and Rizzo completing the 6-4-3 to win it. Combined Chapman and Hendricks faced one batter shy of the minimum, something that has only been done once before in a postseason game, i.e. Don Larson's perfect game in the World Seres in 1956.

Once Rizzo closed his glove on the ball for the third and final out of the ball game the party was in full force. The song "Go Cubs Go!" exploded over the sound system, old Cubs fans cried, younger Cubs fans were in total hysteria. From the intersection of North Sheffield Ave, and West Waveband Ave where throngs of fans packed outside the stadium, to the local bars in and around Chicago, it was absolute pandemonium in Chicago's North Side.

This was their night to cherish. So long Billy Goat, hello Cleveland.

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