October 21, 2016 / 5:57 AM / 2 years ago

'Cursed' Cubs on brink of a World Series return

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The ‘cursed’ Chicago Cubs, who have gone 108 years without a World Series title, gave their long-suffering fans a massive jolt of optimism on Thursday as their batters erupted for a second straight game on the road.

Oct 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 in game five of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Twenty-four hours after they had pounded the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 at a stunned Dodger Stadium, they crushed their opponents 8-4 at the same venue to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.

Game Six will take place on Saturday in Chicago where another win by the Cubs would earn them a coveted place in the Fall Classic against the Cleveland Indians, and the chance to end a lengthy dry spell marked by “The Curse of the Billy Goat”.

For Cubs manager Joe Maddon, Saturday’s game in front of a sellout crowd at Wrigley Field will be “a formidable event” but, despite the heavy weight of expectation, he predicts that his team will focus on business as usual.

“That’s been our goal all year (reaching the World Series), and now we’re very close to it,” Maddon told reporters after the Cubs had exploded with a five-run eighth inning to hush the Dodger Stadium crowd and break a tight game wide open.

“I want us to go out and play the same game. I anticipate our guys going to pitch well, I anticipate their guy (Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw) is, too.

“We’re not going to run away from anything. It’s within our reach now. But I do want us to go after it ... just go play our Saturday game.”

One of the most successful teams in Major League Baseball’s early years, the Cubs were the first team to win back-to-back titles (1907-08), and between 1910 and 1945 they reached seven World Series but failed to claim the crown.

In 1945, the Cubs led the Detroit Tigers 2-1 in the best-of-seven World Series when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave Wrigley Field because his pet goat, who had a paid ticket, smelled bad.

Escorted out, Sianis declared a curse on the Cubs. Chicago lost that game and the series in seven games and have not been back to the Fall Classic since then.

Pitcher Kyle Hendricks will take the mound for the Cubs on Saturday, and he played down the enormity of the occasion as his team aim to snap their lengthy title drought.

“You go out there and you’re making the same pitches, it’s the same lineup, same hitters,” said Hendricks, who finished the regular season 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA in 30 starts.

“All the attention, the added pressure coming from the outside, you don’t pay attention to it, really.”

Editing by Ian Ransom

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