By Dave McKenna

The ghosts from generations of Chicago’s history inhabited Wrigley Field last night, their presence felt in a celebration seven decades in the making.

The Cubs clinched the National League pennant for the first time since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series with a 5-0 win.

On Tuesday they will meet the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, just four victories away from their first championship since 1908.

The Cubs turned the impossible into reality, lovable losers no more.

“Those people that aren’t here are here,” said Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, pointing to the sky while the a frenzy raged on around him. “To do it in front of all these people and all the people that waited a long time, it’s incredible. I’m emotional, but yet I’m in awe right now about what’s going on.”

When closer Aroldis Chapman recorded the final outs on a ground-ball double play, the happiness came first—a rush of unbridled joy unparalleled in these parts. The excitement spilled out of the stadium and on to the crowded streets of Wrigleyville, all in honor of a Cubs team unlike any assembled before it.

This group barged into the season as overwhelming World Series favorites and lived up to those expectations with ease, blitzing the competition on their way to 103 wins.

Hardly anybody had left an hour after the game, and the stands didn’t clear out for another hour after that.

“There’s certain things in life, like your firstborn, you’ve got to experience those kind of things,” said second-year manager Joe Maddon, basking in the afterglow of accomplishing what dozens before him failed to achieve. “Nobody can tell you about it. You have to experience it. You have to hold your own baby, and this is like our own baby right now.”

Next came the relief, a collective exhale from a fan base that has learned to prepare for the worst, to expect the arrival of a meltdown of cosmic proportions.

This time, though, the Cubs didn’t blow it. Nobody used a billy goat to try to cast a curse, a story told through the ages to explain away a stretch of organizational futility that defies all logic. No black cat wandered across their dugout, the omen that ultimately signified their collapse in 1969. Steve Bartman didn’t show up to interfere with a foul ball, the lasting image of the Cubs’ near miss in 2003.

This time, it felt like an inevitability, not an exorcism.

In fact, the Cubs played perhaps their best game of the entire postseason Saturday. They shellacked Clayton Kershaw, baseball’s best pitcher, scoring five runs off him in five innings. Their starter, Kyle Hendricks, allowed just two hits in 7 1/3 innings. He left no doubt.

“They know the history,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of the Cubs players. “I don’t think they care.”

The fans certainly do, however, and that history hovered in the air throughout the night, an inescapable reminder of a past filled with heartbreak.

Elderly fans wore T-shirts imploring the Cubs to win “just one before I die.” Tears flowed freely, evoking a mixture of euphoria previously unknown and memories of loved ones unable to share in it. Maddon said that as he stood on the field after the game, he couldn’t help but think about “the fans and their parents and their grandparents and great-grandparents.”

If baseball brings families together, the Cubs going to the World Series connects the living with the dead.

Of course, they haven’t climbed the mountaintop yet. Not completely. They still need four more wins against the Indians, a team looking for its first title since 1948. The Indians won’t roll over for the sake of a feel-good story—they have their own hex to snap.

But as late Saturday night in Chicago melted into Sunday morning, none of that mattered. The Cubs will worry about it Tuesday.

“There was an era the Cubs were one of the dominant teams, not what they became over so many decades later,” Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said. “We want to get back to that consistency, bring this team back to a consistent winner and do whatever can to restore the glory.”


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