By Flint Wheeler
Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.
Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton Kershaw; Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early; and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-0, Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.
The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration at Wrigley Field. “This city deserves it so much,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘We got four more big ones to go, but we’re going to enjoy this. We’re going to the World Series. I can’t even believe that.’’
Seeking their first title since 1908, the Cubs open the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven’t won since 1948.
Manager Joe Maddon’s team, deemed World Series favorites since spring training, topped the majors with 103 wins, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.
Cubs ace Jon Lester and second baseman Javier Baez were named co-MVPs of the NLCS. They became the first NLCS co-MVPs since Cincinnati relievers Rob Dibble and Randy Myers in 1990.
‘‘It’s been unbelievable to be here and be part of this,’’ Lester said. ‘‘Words can’t really describe where I’m at right now.’’
Baez hit .318 (7 for 22) with five RBIs and also made a couple of the series’ most exciting plays, stealing home during Chicago’s victory in the opener and robbing Adrian Gonzalez of a hit with a barehanded scoop in Game 5 on Thursday night.
Lester, one of baseball’s most accomplished playoff performers, went 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against Los Angeles.
The Cubs took their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener, 4-3, at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.
The eternal ‘‘wait till next year’’ is over. No more dwelling on a past history of failure — the future is now.
To properly capture the monumentally historic nature of the moment, putting the length of time it has been, ESPN and Fox Sports Radio has compiled a list of things that DID NOT exist the last time the Cubbies were in the World Series.
• Joe Maddon (Cubs Manager) • The NBA • Color Telelvison • Super Glue • Los Angeles Dodgers • Credit Cards • Diet Soda • Microwaves • The Korean War • International Air Travel • Velcro • Bar Codes • Barbie Dolls • Mr. Potato Head • My Parents (On both Sides) • Pacemakers • and finally Alaska or Hawaii.
In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn’t allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball. Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.
This time, no such ill luck.
To get to the World Series, Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7⅓ innings. Chapman got the final five outs, then threw both arms in the air and got mobbed by teammates and coaches.
So much for Kershaw’s playoff renaissance. The ace flopped at a big moment — again. As Kershaw’s checkered postseason résumé took another hit.
Kershaw could have started Game 5 on three days’ rest, but manager Dave Roberts decided to save him for Saturday night at Wrigley Field.
This proved a GREAT decision – for the Cubs. The lefthander allowed four earned runs and seven hits while dropping to 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 18 playoff games.
‘‘I think that the first thing I saw is the Cubs hitters, they had a great game plan tonight,’’ Roberts said. ‘‘And there were a couple mistake sliders that they took advantage of. But they were running counts, they used the whole field, and there was traffic all night for Clayton. And he gave it everything he had, but when he did make a mistake, they made him pay.’’
It was the first time Kershaw had given up two runs in the first inning all season. Fowler added a two-out RBI single in the second, rookie Contreras hit a leadoff drive in the fourth and Rizzo connected in the fifth.
Cubs take on the Indians now and Las Vegas already has them at a 4/1 favorite with more and more money pouring in for this to finally be the year the curse gets lifted. Baseball needs this more than ever.