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Cubs one win away from World Series berth
1:06 | MLB
Cubs one win away from World Series berth
Friday October 21st, 2016

LOS ANGELES—It was the hinge game that Dodgers and Cubs fans alike felt would determine the fate of the National League Championship Series. If underdog Los Angeles, tied at two games apiece with Chicago, could somehow patch together a Game 5 win with a few innings from struggling starter Kenta Maeda, timely hitting off Cubs ace Jon Lester and a lights-out performance from its fatigued bullpen, then the team would have Clayton Kershaw throwing in Game 6 with a chance to end this series and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

But the Cubs didn’t want an elimination game against Kershaw—not even in Chicago—and they played like it Thursday night, sprinting and bunting and headfirst-sliding their way to an 8–4 win that felt much closer.

“From a TV ratings standpoint, the further the Cubs go, the better,” said Fox Sports analyst Eric Karros, who threw out the first pitch on Thursday and played 14 years in the majors, 12 for the Dodgers and one each for the Cubs and A's. “You don’t have to be a baseball fan to be interested in the Cubs. It’s a national story. At [Fox Sports 1], we all just got congratulated for having one of our biggest ratings weeks ever … it’s all due to the Cubs.”

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Asked about his opponent's role as America's sweethearts, Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said, “I don’t think that has any bearing on the [games]. That’s a good club over there. And I think it would be a discredit to our guys to use any of that as motivation. We’re just trying to win baseball games to advance.”

Roberts’s club failed in that effort Thursday, setting up a scenario in which the Dodgers will have to win Games 6 and 7 at Wrigley Field behind Kershaw and Game 3 winner Rich Hill.

"[Los Angeles first baseman] Adrian Gonzalez said it best: 'It's us against the world,'" Karros noted, adding that other than Dodgers fans "the only people not rooting for the Cubs are probably St. Louis fans and White Sox fans."

Those fans had little to root for in Game 5 against Lester, who scattered five hits over seven innings and proved immune to L.A.'s efforts to knock him off-rhythm by showing bunt throughout the evening and taking long leads off first base.

“Tonight’s the night,” Ron Rice, a Dodgers fan since 1955, said when the game was tied at one in the sixth. “Their fans are hungry, but it’s been a while for us, too.” Those words had barely left Rice’s mouth before the bat of Cubs shortstop Addison Russell connected with a hanging Joe Blanton slider, sending a two-run homer to centerfield that put Chicago up, 3–1, and seemed to deflate Chavez Ravine for good.

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It was a game rife with video reviews, only one of which went L.A.'s way, fueling speculation in the stands—born after a controversial play-at-the plate in Game 4 in which Gonzalez was ruled out despite replays appearing to indicate otherwise—that Chicago’s Cinderella story had even infected the umpiring crew. Not even the heartwarming tale of Raul Mayagoitia—a lifelong Dodgers fan who drove 1,500 miles from Chihuahua, Mexico, for the game—could inspire L.A.'s hitters to get to Lester.

As the lead widened, Raul’s brother Miguel, who met Raul in Tucson and drove them the rest of the way, whispered what every Dodgers devotee feared was true: “Whoever wins tonight wins the series.”

Roberts struck a more upbeat tone after the final out. “We’re down a game,” he said, “but we’ve won on the road before, we’ve won two games before. For us, it’s an isolated focus on Game 6. We get a rested Kershaw, and with that, we feel good.”

“The country can want 'em to win,” said Jacque Snyder, a gray-haired fan since the days of Sandy Koufax and who kept score from her seat behind the plate, where she’d sat since she was a little girl. “But our boys are gonna do it.”

Or as Roberts put it, defying the storyline the country seemed to crave: “This series certainly isn’t over.”

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