Cubs on brink of World Series return after 71 years


One victory from their first trip to the World Series in 71 years, the Chicago Cubs have long-suffering supporters excited about the prospects for their first World Series title since 1908.

But they have been down this path before, so forgive them if they approach Saturday’s game six of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field with joy and trepidation as well.

The Cubs were one win from the World Series in 1984 before San Diego rallied to win the final three games to take the series and advance to the Major League Baseball final.

And in 2003, with the Cubs leading the best-of-seven series 3-2 and ahead in the sixth game 3-0 in the eighth inning, disaster struck when a fan, Steve Bartman, tried to grab a foul ball in the front row of the stands and disrupted a potential leaping catch by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou.

Instead of the Cubs being four outs from the World Series, the Florida Marlins had new life and went on to score eight runs in the inning, win the game and the seventh game to capture the series and again deny the Cubs a trip to the Fall Classic.

The Cubs made it to the National League final last year, only to be swept by the New York Mets.

And then there is the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” in which the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, Billy Sianis, was asked to leave the fourth game of the 1945 World Series at Wrigley Field because the odor of his pet goat was bothering other spectators. He responded by “cursing” the Cubs and they have not reached the World Series since.

But that could change Saturday, although the Dodgers will start ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who blanked Chicago earlier in the series.

“With pitchers like Kershaw, you have to take advantage of every opportunity when you’re facing that level of pitching,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

“We’re not going to run away from anything. It’s within our reach right now. I do want us to go after it as though it’s, again, hate to say it, but let’s just go play our game Saturday and see how it falls.”

– ‘A formidable event’ –

Maddon does not fear the weight of history, confident in the players who gave the Cubs the best record in Major League Baseball this season.

“It’s going to be a formidable event,” Maddon said. “Our guys will absolutely be ready for the moment. I promise you that. It’s great. The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now. I expect a sellout at Wrigley. It will be a lot of fun.”

Even Kershaw knows the game carries the tension of a 108-year title drought for the Cubs that represents the longest in North American sports history.

“I don’t know if I have a word for it,” Kershaw said. “But I think you do everything you can to try and keep it just like another start at the beginning. Then obviously the magnitude and the situation of the game kind of raises everybody’s adrenaline and things like that.”

Kyle Hendricks will start on the mound for the Cubs, knowing the emotions that will surround the encounter.

“You draw on your experiences,” he said. “This is still the same game. You go out there and you’re making the same pitches, it’s the same lineup, same hitters, there’s just more going on the outside.

“So all the attention, the added pressure coming from the outside, you don’t pay attention to it, really. It has nothing to do with the job that you have to do when you go out there, so you just pretty much take it as any other game.”

© 2016 AFP

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