Two chances at Wrigley Field — and two shots at history

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 07: Fans celebrate after the Chicago Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 1-0 at Wrigley Field on October 7, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 674215233

We’re dealing in bulk here. Years. Decades. Generations. Lifetimes. Maybe even past lives.

Time suddenly has been condensed for Cubs fans, and all of the team’s failures are balled up, awaiting a date with the trashcan. Big dreams formerly spoken in whispers are in reach and talked about openly, brazenly by the masses. The opportunity has arrived for the Cubs to begin to cut history down to size.

They are on the verge of something. Something tremendous. Or something so crushing as to change Cub blue from a color to a chronic mental-health condition. But something.

Game 6 of the National League Championship Series will be played Saturday night at Wrigley Field, and all that means is that the Cubs can advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945. That makes this the 71st season since the last pennant. So, no pressure whatsoever.

They lead the Dodgers 3-2 in the NLCS, but standing in the way of a trip to the Fall Classic is Clayton Kershaw, already one of the best pitchers in baseball history. If they can’t beat him, then they’ll get Rich Hill in a Game 7 that would test the structural integrity of Wrigley and the long-term emotional well-being of Cubs fans.

And if they win? How do you describe what you’ve never seen?

“Our guys will absolutely be ready for the moment,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I promise you that.’’

Two chances to get to the World Series, which they haven’t won since 1908. What could go wrong? Well, OK, plenty, but it should be noted that this team is much more talented than the one that was five outs away from winning the 2003 NLCS and gagged in Game 6. And it’s probably better than any Cubs team since 1908, but without the aid of time travel, it’s hard to say that for sure.

Anyone who has been involved with and scarred by the Cubs has a stake in this, from the old-timers who have seen too many bad things to the youngsters who think that the franchise started when Anthony Rizzo arrived and that 39-year-old David Ross is more fossil than catcher.

But first the Cubs have to take their best shot at Kershaw. He’ll face the same pitcher in Game 6, precision painter Kyle Hendricks, whom he faced in a 1-0 Dodgers victory in Game 2.

“We’ve got Clayton going in Game 6,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “So that’s a game we expect to win.’’

A reporter asked Roberts after the Cubs’ Game 5 victory, their second straight win, whether he pondered how much “the media and the nation wants” the Cubs to win and whether he would use it to motivate his team. The reporter did not ask Roberts if he would accept the election results if his team lost.

“I don’t think that has any bearing on the last two nights,” Roberts said. “That’s a good club over there. That’s a good club. I think it would be a discredit to our guys to use any of that as motivation, to spite the media, the public or whatever the narrative.

“I think for us, we’re trying to win baseball games to advance, and that’s our only focus. So I think I talked a lot all season about the noise, and all that stuff has no bearing on the outcome of the game.’’

There is noise for the Cubs, too, but the decibel level is much, much higher. The Dodgers have actually won something since the dawn of civilization. All season, the Cubs have been very good at distancing themselves from the chatter outside their clubhouse. You might have heard that they’ve embraced the target on their backs — that of favorites — but the fact is that they cruised through the regular season without much stress.

Now there’s a ton of it. Can they ignore it?

“We all have kind of the same mindset,’’ said pitcher Jon Lester, who was excellent in the Cubs’ Game 5 victory. “We don’t really care. We’re out there just playing hard and trying to make it to tomorrow. I think that goes back to Day 1 with Joe, back to last year: Hey, let’s grind out every day and then see what happens, and then show up the next day and do the exact same thing.

“We have a lot of talent on this team, but we have a lot of guys that are dirt ballers that get down and get dirty and make a lot of plays and have some dirty at-bats for us too.’’

The two series the Cubs have played so far have been difficult, perhaps more difficult than most people had foreseen. But they’re also up 3-2 in the NLCS. A positive, by almost any measure.

“It’s within our reach right now,’’ Maddon said.

The manager is correct. It’s right there for the Cubs, waiting to be grabbed. Will they reach out a hand and squeeze?

Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.

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