The Chicago Cubs are headed to the National League Championship Series for the second straight year, after staging a four-run comeback in the ninth inning on Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants.
Javier Baez knocked in the go-ahead run with a single that followed a two-run single from pinch hitter Willson Contreras. Closer Aroldis Chapman blew past three Giants hitters, redeeming himself for a blown save the night before.
The win sealed a 3-1 series victory for the Cubs and denied an 11th consecutive win in an elimination game to the Giants, who’ve taken home titles every two years since the beginning of this decade.
The Cubs, who finished the season with a league-best 103-58 record, have 108 years’ worth of Chicagoland keening in their ears, but players insist that the club’s storied history of beautiful loserdom – and the Curse of the Billy Goat myth that supposedly perpetuates it – hasn’t fed any superstition on their part.
"Nobody really cares in there about a curse or a goat or anything else," veteran left-handed pitcher Jon Lester told the Associated Press. "If we make a mistake, we're not going to blame it on a curse or anything else like that. We're going to blame it on ourselves and be accountable for it and move on to the next play or the next moment."
"We got too many young guys in there that don't even know what that stuff is," he said. "So, it's almost better to play naive and just go out and worry about us, worry about the Cubs and not anything else in the past or, like I said, any animals."
Chicago's odds this year look better than ever. As The Christian Science Monitor’s Erik Spanberg wrote this month, close baseball watchers might be surprised if they don’t win it all:
No matter what happens, you can count on a chorus of questions about whether this is the year for Chicago fans and constant crash courses in previous Cubs miseries. Once the Boston Red Sox ended their own curse – of the Bambino, as in an ill-fated trade of future Hall of Famer Babe Ruth – by winning the 2004 World Series after 86 years without a title and the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team won the NBA finals earlier this year (the first time any major Cleveland team had come out on top in a championship since 1964), the Cubs became the symbol of relentless sports futility.
If the Cubs snap their century-plus World Series drought this year, the rewards will be many, but money won’t be anywhere near the top of that list.
“For the city, it will be spiritually uplifting,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor and sports economist. “It will be as good as a visit from the maharishi.”
The Cubs will face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Washington Nationals, who are currently tied at 2-2. Lester is expected to be the starting pitcher in Game 1.
"This is a special group," manager Joe Maddon told the AP. "It's pretty easy when you want to have kids act like kids. Listen, but you see them on the field, they play. We play hard. I think we play it right."
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.