Cubs' quest con­tin­ues in Cham­pi­onship Se­ries

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Janie Mccauley

After elim­i­nat­ing the Giants, the Cubs await their foe in the Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries, re­sum­ing their mis­sion to end the team’s 108-year-old streak with­out a World Se­ries ti­tle.

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> Don­ning fresh post­sea­son vic­tory gear, the Chicago Cubs gath­ered on the mound and posed for a group photo. They jumped up and down, saluted the fans cheer­ing “Cub-bies!” be­hind the vis­it­ing dugout and then took the party in­side.

Step One in their Oc­to­ber quest? Check.

Yet ev­ery one of man­ager Joe Mad­don’s men rec­og­nizes the task ahead. The club with base­ball’s best reg­u­lar sea­son record at 103-58 is be­ing counted on to end a 108-year cham­pi­onship drought and all the pent-up frus­tra­tion in the Windy City.

Chicago is headed back to the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries for a sec­ond straight year, ea­ger to erase the mem­ory of a four-game sweep to the New York Mets a sea­son ago. Once Matt Moore’s stel­lar night was com­plete for San Fran­cisco, the Cubs ral­lied with a four­run ninth in a 6-5 vic­tory Tues­day night that elim­i­nated the Giants in Game 4 of their NL Divi­sion Se­ries.

The same Giants who had won the World Se­ries in ev­ery even year this decade — 2010, ‘12 and ‘14 — and had suc­ceeded in 10 straight post­sea­son games when fac­ing elim­i­na­tion.

“This is a spe­cial group,” Mad­don said. “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.”

Blue-clad loy­al­ists stuck around the ball­park long after the fi­nal out, cheer­ing and singing for the team fa­vored to win the World Se­ries from the start. The fans waited about an hour be­fore fi­nally head­ing for the ex­its.

Now, the Cubs go home to wait out Thurs­day’s Game 5 of the Dodgers-Na­tion­als se­ries and have a cou­ple of days to rest their legs be­fore Satur­day’s NLCS opener.

Mad­don will likely hand the ball to vet­eran left­hander Jon Lester in Game 1 at Wrigley Field be­cause he wasn’t needed in a po­ten­tial Game 5.

Chicago hasn’t been to the World Se­ries since 1945, the year Billy Goat Tav­ern owner Billy Sia­nis sup­pos­edly placed his hex on North Siders.

No pres­sure, cer­tainly not with this group that de­clines to feed the su­per­sti­tion chat­ter. No goat fear here, not with a ros­ter pack­ing the tal­ent and the pluck to nav­i­gate the nervi­est late-game sit­u­a­tion.

“No­body re­ally cares in there about a curse or a goat or any­thing else,” Lester said. “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 added. “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.”

In the ninth, Javier Baez hit a go-ahead sin­gle after pinch-hit­ter Will­son Con­tr­eras tied it with a tworun sin­gle. Flame-throw­ing closer Aroldis Chap­man closed it out, re­bound­ing after his blown save Mon­day cost Chicago in a 13-in­ning 6-5 loss.

“Since Day One, we came to play hard,” Baez said.

Mad­don and many oth­ers have spo­ken of the Cubs’ com­mit­ment to play­ing all 27 outs. That re­solve has be­come a defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic for the play­ers hop­ing to show Wrigleyville a party for the ages.

“This is big. This is re­ally big. Any­time you do that with a group, it just does a lot for that par­tic­u­lar group’s con­fi­dence,” said out­fielder Ben Zo­brist, who won a ti­tle with Kansas City last year. “Ev­ery group has to kind of find that iden­tity. We did it dur­ing the sea­son, but you still have to find that iden­tity in the post­sea­son as well.

“It proved to be true that that’s the kind of team we have. Tonight we were able to put a good come­back to­gether.”

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Chicago Cubs catcher Will­son Con­tr­eras, cen­ter, has beer poured on him in the locker room after Game 4 of base­ball’s Na­tional League Divi­sion Se­ries against the San Fran­cisco Giants in San Fran­cisco, Tues­day. The Cubs won 6-5.

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