CHICAGO (AP) — Anthony Rizzo caught the ball for the final out and Wrigley Field erupted.
“I’m sleeping with this thing tonight,” the Chicago Cubs first baseman told the pulsating crowd moments later, kissing the prized souvenir. “Are you kidding me? We’re going to the World Series.”
Cubs … World Series? Yes, the Cubbies!
Next up, Game 1 in Cleveland.
With fans chanting, singing and waving those Ws, shaking the century-old ballpark and jamming the streets of Wrigleyville, the Cubs celebrated a moment many of their faithful wondered whether they would ever see.
Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton Kershaw, Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs took their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night to win the NL Championship Series in six games.
“Listen to them. Outside before the game was crazy. Inside the game was crazy,” Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said.
“These guys have done nothing but support us from Day One. It’s been unbelievable to be here and be part of this. Words can’t really describe where I’m at right now,” he said.
Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, those “Lovable Losers” now have a chance to win it all.
Trying to win their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon’s team opens the World Series against Cleveland on Tuesday night.
The Indians haven’t won it all since 1948 — Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.
“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.”
All-everything Javier Baez and Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.
The drought ended when Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play , setting off a wild celebration. And if they bring home the elusive championship?
“I may make the ‘W’ a tattoo,” said chairman Tom Ricketts , who once lived across the street and met his wife in the bleachers.
Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.
The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won 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 history of failure — the future is now.
“We’re too young. We don’t care about it,” star slugger Kris Bryant said. “We don’t look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We’re enjoying it and our work’s just getting started.”
Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings . Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.
The Dodgers sent the minimum 27 batters to the plate and no one got past first base.
The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.
And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.
In the 1945 Series, 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.
Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first . Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.
Contreras led off the fourth with a homer.Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.
That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.
Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game’s first pitch.
Kershaw, dominant in Game 2, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.
“This day is never fun, the ending of a season,” Kershaw said.
The Dodgers haven’t been to the World Series since winning in 1988.
Pitching on five days’ rest, Kershaw needed 30 pitches to get through the first. Fowler led off with a double against the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, and Bryant’s single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.
Fans had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo’s fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.
The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.
Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.
“Kershaw’s pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don’t feel like we’re losing anything on defense,” Maddon said. “I know Jason’s a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too.”
Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs — 1 for 16 in the NLCS.
Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the “Play Ball!” call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.