Cubs’ Hendricks has night for the ages; wild celebration ensues
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All that discouraging history. All that fear and doubt.
If anyone was cursed Saturday night at Wrigley Field, it was the visiting Dodgers. Cursed by the baseball gods, who lined them up against an absolute buzzsaw of a team and a stoic savant of a pitcher.
Clayton Kershaw, you are dismissed.
Kyle Hendricks, you are everything you’ve been cracked up to be and more.
The Cubs are going to the World Series. Let’s say that once more, with feeling: The Cubs are going to the World Series.
Their 5-0 victory in Game 6 touched off a celebration that will live forever in the hearts of these Cubs and their massive following. And it will be ages before anyone forgets how it happened, with Hendricks — the 2016 major league ERA champ — delivering the performance of his life and Kershaw, the most ballyhooed pitcher of his time, left standing hopelessly in front of a runaway Cubs train.
For the Cubs, there was no waiting to get rolling. They jumped on Kershaw in the first inning, with leadoff man Dexter Fowler dropping a double down the right-field line. Kris Bryant followed with an RBI single, taking a two-strike single to the opposite field as if he’d been doing that sort of thing his whole career.
When Dodgers left fielder Andrew Toles dropped a line shot from Anthony Rizzo for an error, one began to see that the guys from Los Angeles — not the ones bearing the weight of 1908 and 1945 and monstrous expectations — might not be built for a moment the size of this one. The Cubs? Ready. Willing. Able as all get-out.
They put two runs on the Dodgers in that first, with Kershaw toiling for 30 pitches, and ran the lead to 5-0 — with home runs from Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo — by the time they were done bullying the lefty.
Hendricks, meanwhile, was at his unflappable best. At the end of each of his seven innings — and when he left the game with one out in the eighth — he pulled down the brim of his cap, lowered his head and slowly, serenely walked to the dugout. Same as always, but on this night quite a juxtaposition against the gathering chaos in the stands.
Speaking of chaos, here’s the gist of what you need to know about the postgame clubhouse. Hugs, piggy-back rides, a dance party. Of course, champagne and Budweiser everywhere. Also:
“I’m proud of you.”
“I love you.”
These are words shared by many of these Cubs on a routine basis. They flowed as freely and sweetly as the bubbly Saturday night.
“Best group of guys in the world,” Jon Lester said. “Closest team in the world.”
Jayson Heyward, the first-year Cub with the massive contract and the undersized batting average, embraced Anthony Rizzo and congratulated him for fighting out of his own playoff slump.
“I’m proud to feel a part of a group that looks every challenge in the eye,” Heyward said.
It’s what the Cubs did in their second crack at Kershaw, and it’s what Hendricks did — again — because that’s who he has become as much as anyone on this team.
“We’re not done,” Hendricks said as Jake Arrieta walked up behind him and prepared to empty a bottle of Bud onto his head. “We’re still going.”
Arrieta called Hendricks “as well-prepared and well-poised as anybody in baseball. And you put those two things together and you get a guy like that.”
Lester described Hendricks’ outing as “(bleeping) unbelievable” and said he had been “the best pitcher all season.” Both Lester and Hendricks are in the running for this year’s N.L. Cy Young award.
“It’s him. It’s Kyle,” Lester said. “He deserves everything that’s coming his way.”
It was time for the party to move back outside. Addison Russell, Jason Hammel, Carl Edwards Jr., David Ross — one by one, they rushed out of the clubhouse and up the tunnel to the field, two-fisted with celebratory beverages.
Former pitcher Kerry Wood — who was on the mound in 2003 the last time the Cubs tried to clinch a World Series berth —was on hand to revel with them. Billy Williams and other ex-Cubs, too, not to mention a few locally grown Hollywood celebrities.
When Hendricks saw his mother on the field, she took his face in her hands and said, “Oh, baby. You did it.”
He sure did. He took the baton from Game 5 winner Lester and ran with it — a pair of elite pitchers at their best exactly when the Cubs needed them to be, and a hell of a one-two punch.
Kershaw and the Dodgers went down for the count. Hendricks rose to the occasion like a champion.
Like there was never any doubt.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.