A Game 5 victory, and now the Cubs get to climb Mt. Kershaw

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Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw watches from the dugout during Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES – One player floats over this series like a helium parade balloon, like a giant Mighty Mouse, left arm extended. Anything that happened in Game 5 Thursday night at Dodger Stadium came with the knowledge that Clayton Kershaw would be pitching Game 6 Saturday at Wrigley Field.

And, assuming, for a moment, a Kershaw victory, it also came with the thought that Game 7 of the National League Championship Series would then be played at a very uptight Wrigley.

So here’s Kershaw, the man with the best chance to affect the NLCS, both physically and emotionally. The Cubs are going to have to run through a wall to win this.

They beat up the Dodgers 8-4 Thursday, giving them a 3-2 lead in the series. It was a game they were supposed to win. They sent ace Jon Lester to the mound, the Dodgers answered with humdrum postseason pitcher Kenta Maeda and when could everyone get back to Wrigley for Game 6 and the monumental task of trying to beat Kershaw, of trying to get to the team’s first World Series since 1945?

Lester was great, giving up just five hits and one run in seven innings. Great, fine, wonderful. Now let the real drama begin.

Kershaw was excellent in the Dodgers’ Game 2 victory, and as the series progressed, the only question was whether he would pitch in Game 5 or Game 6. A Game 5 start would have meant less rest for him, a better chance to bring a series lead for the Dodgers back to Wrigley and the possibility of a Game 7 appearance. A Game 6 start means one more day of rest and the chance to make the Cubs go to Game 7 with the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went with Door No. 6.

I would have started Kershaw in Game 5, presuming a victory that would have put all sorts of pressure on the Cubs. If there’s a right answer on this, we might not know it until the series is over and the history writing begins.

But Kershaw was going to loom either way. He looms like nobody else looms.

“At this time of the year, if you wanted to get to your ultimate goal, you have to beat people like that,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to. Normally this time of the year, the opposition’s going to field some really good pitching, both starting and relieving. The line’s always been for me, you’ve got to pitch better than good pitching to win.’’

The Cubs will have two things going for them Saturday: Kyle Hendricks, the pitcher with the lowest earned-run average in baseball during the regular season, and the body of Kershaw’s postseason work, which hasn’t been stellar until this year.

“Hopefully, he’s not the good Kershaw, and we get kind of the mediocre guy that gives up a few runs,” Lester said.

The Cubs have one thing going against them: Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation, a three-time Cy Young winner who would have been in the running for another this season if he hadn’t missed significant time with a back injury.

Reports have it that the Cubs are going to show up anyway Saturday.

Game 5 was there to get everyone to Game 6, to Kershaw and Hendricks. To Wrigley and Cubs fans.

“The fans are pretty excited about their team this year, and rightfully so,’’ Kershaw said. “They’ve been waiting a long time for them to win. … Pitching on the road is obviously different, but you try and keep it the same as possible. D.C. (during the division series) was one of the louder environments that I’ve pitched in. So I’ve gotten to do that now a few times. I guess I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be for that.’’

Let’s see if the Cubs are.

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