1984. 2003. Now, 2016.
Those are the only three times since 1945 the Chicago Cubs have been one win away from advancing to the World Series.
In 1984, with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five NLCS, Leon Durham and Steve Garvey happened. The Cubs lost three straight games and the Padres got to get picked apart by the powerhouse Tigers in the Fall Classic.
In 2003, of course, Bartman and Alex Gonzalez happened. The team blew a 3-2 lead in the NLCS to the Florida Marlins, who went on to upset the Yankees in the World Series.
Now, we find ourselves in 2016. It’s a new team and a new set of circumstances. But the feeling of anticipation is all too familiar. Fans want to celebrate already. After all, the team leads the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in the NLCS with two games coming up at home.
But, we’ve been here before.
With the Cubs, nothing seems like a sure thing until it’s finished. So, why is this team different? Why is this the team that will break the Curse of the Billy Goat (which is just reaching the World Series, by the way)?
Nobody can know for sure if they will be. But there is more reason to believe this year than ever before. This Dodgers team is not as strong as the 2003 Marlins. This team is more mentally tough than the 2003 version that got flustered and crumbled after a fan tried to catch a ball Moises Alou may never have had a chance to catch in the first place.
In Game 6, the Cubs will toss Kyle Hendricks, owner of MLB’s lowest home ERA (and overall ERA for that matter) at a startling 1.32 mark. His task? Beat Clayton Kershaw.
That will be no small task given Kershaw’s run so far this postseason and against the Cubs specifically. He is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts this postseason. Against the Nationals in the NLDS, he was mediocre. Against the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS, he was marvelous.
For a while, it seemed as though he might be headed for history, sniffing a perfect game. He “settled” for seven innings of two-hit ball as the Dodgers tied the series and shifted momentum.
Historically, though, Kershaw has not been very good in big games. Facing elimination in Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS, for example, he allowed seven runs on 10 hits in four innings against the Cardinals.
With his team’s back against the wall and his playoff reputation potentially on the line, there is no way to predict how Kershaw will react. The Cubs have all the momentum, winners of two straight games in the series, but an ace can stop that momentum very quickly.
It’s going to be a chilly night at Wrigley Field and the wind could be blowing out. That likely wouldn’t work in the Cubs’ favor as Hendricks pitches to contact whereas Kershaw tends to get plenty of swings and misses.
All these new circumstances, which feel so familiar to those who watched this team in 1984 and 2003, shouldn’t matter to Cubs fans. This team is on a mission and if they blow a 3-2 series lead, it likely won’t be due to the reasons they’ve lost these big games before. It will be because a team threw out their ace and then stole Game 7 on the road.
Make no mistake, though, losing these next two games would be devastating. The Cubs have had five close-out games with a chance to go to the World Series in the last 71 years and they’ve lost every single one. Now, they get two more chances to do what many thought to be impossible.
As starting pitcher Jake Arrieta put so eloquently to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale when talking about the curse and everything that goes with it: “F*** history.”
That’s the attitude the Cubs have going into Game 6 of the NLCS, and it might just be the mindset they need to break a curse and send the North Side of Chicago into a frenzy.
[Featured Image by Jae C. Hong/AP Images]