By Larry Fine
(Reuters) – The Chicago Cubs dispatched the Los Angeles Dodgers with power and pitching on Saturday to win the National League pennant and reach their first World Series in 71 years.
The Cubs, for more than half a century viewed as the lovable losers of old ivy-covered Wrigley Field, beat the best pitcher of the now generation in Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in a 5-0 victory that clinched the National League pennant, 4-2.
Next up, the Cleveland Indians and the Curse of the Billy Goat.
The long-suffering Cubs head to Cleveland on Tuesday to begin a best-of-seven for Major League Baseball’s championship with a chance to end the longest title drought in major North American professional sports — 108 years — and erase a fabled curse.
Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras blasted home runs to support the two-hit pitching of Kyle Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman that sent Cubs fans into delirium, rocked the 102-year-old stadium in Chicago and ignited a city-wide celebration.
Transformed by a new management regime led by team president Theo Epstein, who also helped the Boston Red Sox exorcise the Curse of the Bambino with their first Series win in 86 years, the Cubbies will enter the 112th Fall Classic as favorites after a major league-leading 103 regular season wins.
The Indians had their own history of sporting futility in the city on the southern shore of Lake Erie once nicknamed the “Mistake on the Lake”, going without a World Series title since 1948.
But no club touches the ordeal of the Cubs, whose deprived fans have waited four decades longer than their Cleveland counterparts.
The Cubs were an early power in the major leagues, winning their second World Series in a row in 1908 in the fifth edition of the Fall Classic.
The Cubs remained a strong team over the next few decades but kept falling short in the World Series. They were runners-up in six World Series in the years following when they once again won the National League pennant for another crack at the title in 1945.
Legend has it that Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave Game Four of the 1945 Series at Wrigley Field against the Detroit Tigers because the odor of his pet goat, Murphy, was bothering other fans.
Outraged, Sianis cursed the Cubs on his way out of the World Series game, shouting they would never win another.
Seventy-one years later, and 108 years in total, the Cubs and their fans are still waiting.
These Cubs look well equipped to end the drought.
Built by a combination of shrewd trades, draft choices and heavy spending on the free agent market, the new Cubs have a young, power-hitting team featuring third baseman Kris Bryant, first baseman Rizzo and shortstop Addison Russell.
They support a veteran starting rotation anchored by Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, National League ERA leader Hendricks and John Lackey.
Led by manager Joe Maddon, brought in last season as the final piece of their championship puzzle, the Cubs went from 101 losses in Epstein’s first season in charge in 2012 to one step from baseball heaven.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Andrew Both)