For only the second time since 1908, the Chicago Cubs have won a Major League Baseball playoff series and long-suffering fans hope their championship drought will end after 106 seasons.
The Cubs defeated St. Louis 6-4 Tuesday to reach the National League finals, clinching a playoff series at home for the first time in team history, a legacy dating to 1870.
Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo smacked home runs to power the hard-hitting Cubs, who took the best-of-five matchup from the Cardinals three games to one.
“This means so much to the team, the city and to everyone involved with this organization,” Rizzo said. “We’re so happy right now. I can’t even put it into words.”
The Cubs, who had not won a playoff series since beating Atlanta in the 2003 National League first round, next face either the New York Mets or Los Angeles Dodgers to determine a berth in the World Series.
The Dodgers downed the host Mets 3-1 Tuesday to force a fifth game Thursday in Los Angeles to decide that series.
The Cubs, founded in 1870, have not won a World Series since 1908.
Wrigley Field, built in 1914, is among America’s most iconic sports venues, but the Cubs, who began playing there in 1916, had never before hosted a playoff victory celebration, clinching 1907 and 1908 World Series crowns in Detroit and a 2003 first-round triumph in Atlanta.
But there was late drama to be endured. Matt Carpenter hit a two-out single in the ninth for St. Louis to bring rookie Stephen Piscotty, who homered in the first inning, to the plate as the tying run.
But Cubs relief pitcher Hector Rondon struck out Piscotty to end the game and ignite a raucous celebration.
“We deserve to celebrate this. It has been a long time coming for this city and hopefully it’s just a taste of what’s about to come,” Rizzo said.
The Cubs have not even reached the World Series since 1945, when Detroit beat them in seven games. Chicago lost all seven World Series appearances between 1908 and 1945 and failed to reach the championship showdown in six National League playoff trips since the World Series of 70 years ago.
Slugging heroics sparked the Cubs, who blasted a major league playoff record nine homers in consecutive games. In all, Chicago has scored 15 of 20 playoff runs from homers.
Piscotty’s homer put St. Louis ahead 2-0. The Cubs answered with four runs in the second inning, three on a Baez homer in the second inning.
St. Louis equalized in the sixth after Jason Heyward and Jhonny Peralta hit back-to-back singles. Tony Cruz followed with a double down the right field line to score Heyward and pinch hitter Brandon Moss singled to bring in Peralta.
Rizzo homered in the sixth and Schwarber homered in the seventh to give the Cubs their margin of victory.
The Cardinals led the major leagues with 100 wins but could only watch from the dugout while the Cubs danced with joy.
“This is a team that was as impressive to watch from day one as any team I’ve ever been around,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
– Playoff win for Kershaw –
At New York, Adrian Gonzalez singled in a run and Justin Turner doubled in two more in the third inning to put the Dodgers ahead 3-0.
The Mets answered on Daniel Murphy’s solo homer in the fourth and threatened in the eighth after Curtis Granderson and David Wright each walked with two outs. But Murphy flew out to end the inning and New York went down in order in the ninth.
Los Angeles ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw struck out eight on three days of rest for the victory after losing five playoff decisions in a row.
“I was pretty fired up. I knew adrenaline would take over,” Kershaw said. “I just had to control it. It felt pretty good.”