LOS ANGELES – Deciding against ace Clayton Kershaw for Game 5, the Dodgers instead sent out the ghosts against the Cubs on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.
But Jon Lester was nine months old when Steve Garvey kept the Cubs out of the World Series in 1984. And Addison Russell was in fourth grade when Eric Karros stood at first base for the double-play relay that never came in that fateful eighth inning in 2003.
How do you believe in ghosts when you can’t see them?
By the time Garvey and Karros got done whipping the Dodger Stadium crowd into a pregame frenzy with a surprise introduction of broadcasting legend Vin Scully, Lester and Russell quickly got to work putting the Cubs on the brink of silencing 71 years of much bigger franchise ghosts.
Lester continued his October of dominance for the Cubs with seven more shutdown innings, and Russell hit his second big home run in as many nights as the Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4 Thursday night to take a commanding 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
“The city of Chicago’s got to be buzzing pretty much right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
For the third time since 1945 – first since they were famously five outs away in 2003 – the Cubs are one victory from the World Series as they head home for Game 6 on Saturday night.
“Like Rizz said, it’s gonna be epic,” said third baseman Kris Bryant, who had two more hits in this one. “It’s certainly gonna be loud and fun. The cool thing about Wrigley is all the fans are right on top of you. You feel the energy more than the bigger stadiums. We’re certainly going to feed off it.”
And if the apparent imminence of the first Cubs World Series since integration represents another historic hurdle – a target, even – Maddon said it’s something his team plans to embrace like they did the favorite’s target this season.
“That’s been our goal all year,” he said. “Now that we’re very close to it, I want us to go out and play the same game. We’re not going to run away from anything. It’s within our reach right now. I want to go after it like, `Lets just go play our Saturday game and see how it falls.’ “
They’ll face Kershaw in Game 6, but thanks to Thursday’s late-inning outburst, their long-elusive World Series does not depend on beating the best pitcher in baseball.
“You’d much rather go home under those circumstances than the other,” Maddon said. “It’ll be a formidable event.
“Nothing has been decided obviously,” he added. “We have to go back home and play our ‘A’ game.”
Rookie Willson Contreras seems oblivious to the historic weight of the weekend at Wrigley Field.
“Probably a lot of people think that we as young players are gonna put pressure on ourselves,” he said. “We don’t have pressure on ourselves. We’re just trying to do our best.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he added of the chance at a World Series. “Now I think it’s time to show that we can play baseball our way.”
The Cubs backed up Lester’s shutdown pitching with seven late-inning runs to rout the Dodgers for the second consecutive game after falling behind 2-1 in the series.
Lester, who started both Game 1 victories for the Cubs this postseason, went seven strong, allowing just one in the fourth, never trailing.
Russell, who snapped out of a postseason-long slump Wednesday, hit the two-run homer in the sixth that put the Cubs ahead, before they added five more in a sloppy eighth inning by the Dodgers.
“Just rounding the bases it was pretty exciting,” Russell said. “I was pumped up not only for myself but for the team and the little cushion Jonny had to go from there.”
Lester allowed just five hits and one walk.
“This guy is an ultimate competitor,” Dodger manager Dave Roberts said of Lester. “He’s going to find a way to get outs.”
Cubs postseason star Javy Baez made the defensive play of the game on Adrian Gonzalez’s bunt past the mound in the seventh – bare-handing and throwing in one motion to get Gonzalez by a half-step (after a replay challenge overturned a safe call).
Then he added a three-run double in the eighth – coming up limping briefly after turning his ankle slightly rounding second.
He stayed in the game and said afterward he was fine.
“These guys won the game for us tonight,” Lester said of Russell and Baez. “I was just kind of along for the ride.
“Obviously, we all know what we have in front of us with Kershaw going into Game 6,” he added. “And we’re going to do the same thing we’ve done all year: show up on Saturday and be ready to play. Hopefully, he’s not the good Kershaw, and we get kind of the mediocre guy that gives up a few runs and we’re able to hold them where they’re at.”