Two quick runs off the best pitcher on the planet on Saturday night afforded the Cubs exactly what they needed to snap a 71-year-old drought.
Already confident after consecutive offensive outbursts in the previous two games, a two-run first inning against Clayton Kershaw had Cubs hitters in a positive frame of mind.
They rode the surprising rally and a dominant performance by Kyle Hendricks to a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The win earned the Cubs their first NL pennant since 1945 and on Tuesday night they’ll seek their first World Series title since 1908 when they face the Cleveland Indians in Game 1.
“It’s huge for the confidence, the positive momentum from LA, to carry over back home,” left fielder Ben Zobrist said. “Those were the biggest moments in the game early on to help everybody keep pushing and that we got this thing -- that we’re in charge of the game early. That’s a huge momentum builder.”
The Cubs did a little bit of everything in the first inning against Kershaw, who dominated them for seven scoreless frames in a 1-0 Dodgers victory in Game 2 on Sunday night. Some hitters took a more aggressive approach against the three-time NL Cy Young winner while others remained patient. The one constant throughout the 30-pitch frame was that Cubs hitters took advantage whenever Kershaw made a mistake.
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One way to realize just how long it's been since the Chicago Cubs last reached the World Series is to look at how much the game has changed since then, on and off the field.
The Cubs are making their first appearance since 1945 and chasing their first title since 1908.
Some of the ways the game has changed since the Cubs lost Game 7 to the Detroit Tigers some 71 years ago:
INTEGRATION: Jackie Robinson became the first black player to reach the major leagues in 1947, two years after the Cubs' last World Series appearance. Baseball has turned into a virtual melting pot in the seven decades since. The Cubs' roster includes players from Cuba (reliever Aroldis Chapman and outfielder Jorge Soler), along with Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, as well as the United States.
EXPANSION: There were 16 teams in the majors in 1945, including two in St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, and three in New York. The total is up to 30 now.
GO WEST: There were no major league franchises west of St. Louis in 1945. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the New York Giants headed to San Francisco in 1958. In 1969, the Seattle Pilots showed up - they went 64-98 in their first year, then became the Milwaukee Brewers.
DIVISIONAL PLAY: There were no divisions in 1945, just eight teams in both the American League and National League. They split into East and West divisions in 1969. Then a Central was created in 1994, with the Cubs shifting from the NL East to the NL Central.
PLAYOFFS PLUS: Extra teams and divisions resulted in expanded playoffs. The League Championship Series began in 1969, the Division Series started in 1995 and a one-game wild-card playoff came in 2012. A longer postseason pushed the World Series deep into October and beyond. If the Cubs and Cleveland go the distance this year, Game 7 would be on Nov. 2.
FREE AGENCY: When Phil Cavarretta and Peanuts Lowrey helped lead the Cubs to the 1945 Series, they were bound to the team until they were traded or released. Curt Flood tested baseball's reserve clause in the early 1970s and took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, helping pave the way for players to move around as free agents. Jon Lester, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist are among the players the Cubs acquired this way.
DESIGNATED HITTER: The designated hitter joined the American League lineup in 1973. The DH debate is still hot, with the leagues playing by different rules. When this year's World Series opens at the AL park, both teams will use the DH; when the Cubs host, the pitchers will hit.
LIGHTS AT WRIGLEY: The Cubs were the last team in the majors to play only day games. That changed when lights were installed at Wrigley Field in 1988. The games there have always been played outdoors on green grass, never under a dome or on artificial turf, trends that became popular starting with the Astrodome in the mid-1960s.