Here comes Game 6 at Wrigley in NLCS, both a thrill and a terror

SHARE Here comes Game 6 at Wrigley in NLCS, both a thrill and a terror
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Manager Joe Maddon celebrates with Kris Bryant after the Cubs’ Game 5 victory Thursday. The Cubs had a 3-2 NLCS lead 13 years ago, and we know what followed. | David J. Phillip/AP

LOS ANGELES — Let’s get it out in the open, because it’s not like nobody is going to remember.

Saturday’s game at Wrigley Field will be Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. We’ve been here before, 13 years ago, in utter bafflement, sadness and fear.

That NLCS Game 6 will forever be remembered as “The Bartman Game,” not because hapless fan Steve Bartman reached for a ball in play — which should have had no effect on pitcher Mark Prior and his pals — but simply because he’s a symbol of the moment when it all went into the toilet for the Cubs.

Five outs away from the World Series. You know the rest.

So here come the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers to play out the roles of the 2003 Cubs and Florida Marlins, who went on to win the World Series.

The Cubs lead three games to two, just as they did back then. All they have to do is win one game.

Cubs Nation waits feverishly for that victory, which will propel this team into the World Series for the first time since 1945. Should be easy.

But the specter of Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the ace of aces, starting that game has to bring pause. Maybe it’s wrong to even think of past references. But it’s not wrong to be prepared for tough times, to know that a loss, thus forcing a Game 7, would be reminiscent of the Kerry Wood Game 7 back in the day — another mind-scrambling, hideous loss.

The Cubs have scored 18 runs in their last two wins over the Dodgers. Their bat impotence seems to have been cured, except for unlucky Ben Zobrist (who nevertheless walked three times in Game 5) and guaranteed out Jason Heyward.

So they should be feeling good about their prospects.

The Cleveland Indians have already snagged the American League spot in the World Series, and the prospect of two teams who, combined, have gone 176 years without a World Series crown has to appeal to the common man everywhere, as well as anybody in the Midwest.

“Snakebit” doesn’t begin to describe these two teams. “Eaten by pythons” does.

One of them will rejoice so long and hard after the World Series that the celebration might last for months, or years, or decades.

Excuse me. I am way ahead of matters here.

Let’s drop back to Game 6 on Saturday night. If there isn’t nervous energy in the air at Wrigley — mixed with a subdued yet undeniable dread — then these aren’t the Cubs, and you haven’t been a fan for long.

Starter Kyle Hendricks might have the game of his life. He’s an excellent pitcher, with near Greg Maddux-like control. He had a remarkable 2.13 ERA in the regular season, and he’s at 1.69 in the postseason.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Hendricks said of facing Kershaw. “It’s obviously going to be fun.”

Fun?

Before Game 5, former Dodgers Eric Karros and Steve Garvey threw out a pair of first pitches in the twilight heat. Sure, those two are Dodgers for life. But Karros was once a Cub. And Garvey was once a Cub-killer.

Back in 2003, Karros played one season for the Cubs and was most notable for filming everything on his small camera, perhaps for that World Series joy story that never happened. He was good during the season and the first round of the playoffs but stunk in the NLCS. Like his teammates.

All Garvey did, way back in 1984, when he was with the San Diego Padres, was destroy the Cubs in the NLCS, the series they had all but won, batting .400 and winning the MVP award.

Nice touch, Dodgers! Thanks for the memories!

Saturday cometh.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

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