CHICAGO - The Los Angeles Dodgers, in Chicago this time a year ago when they were knocked out of the playoffs, stuck for two hours in the cramped visiting clubhouse while waiting for traffic to clear, were in no hurry to leave this night.
The Dodgers, for the first time in 29 years, are going to the World Series, capturing the National League pennant Thursday night on the same field where they lost the NLCS, clobbering the Cubs 11-1, and winning the series 4-1.
How thorough was the Dodgers' domination? Utilityman Kike Hernandez hit three home runs in Game 5 - tying a postseason record - and set an NLCS record with seven runs batted in.
The Cubs scored nine runs all series.
“We’re the better team,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game. “We know it. And they know it.
“A year ago, it was different, they were the better team.’’
Certainly, not now.
Perhaps, not for a long, long time.
The Dodgers, who have won a franchise-record 111 games, and have the deepest team in all of baseball, stomped all over the Cubs without even having their best player, All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who stayed home to recuperate from a sprained lower back.
He should be ready for the World Series, which will open Tuesday against the New York Yankees or Houston Astros, with a game-time forecast of 101 degrees.
The Dodgers hardly are in a mood to worry about the climate now.
They’ve got a pennant to celebrate.
In the middle of it all - Hernandez, who has been outspoken in the USA's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. A career .236 hitter, Hernandez had just 28 career homers in four seasons.
"You sure it’s a record? It’s unbelievable," he said in a postgame interview on CNN. "It’s amazing. Obviously, people back home are having a hard time right now and for me to do something special right now…My body is here, but my mind is back home. I can’t put it into words."
He can be forgiven.
And so can the Dodgers - it has been nearly three decades since the Dodgers had a ring ceremony.
Now, 29 years later, the lights were turned off at Wrigley until next spring, as the Cubs were forced watch the Dodgers party in front of them.
There was no need for a dramatic homer to send them into the World Series this night, with the Dodgers seizing a 7-0 lead by the third inning, thanks to Hernandez hitting a leadoff homer in the second inning, and delivering the knockout punch an inning later with a grand slam off Cubs starter Jose Quintana. He added his third homer in the ninth inning off Mike Montgomery.
Hernandez's slam won’t be remembered as much as Justin Turner’s walk-off homer in Game 2, but it surely will be treasured in Dodgers folklore, just like Kirk Gibson’s home run 29 years ago in Game 1 of the World Series against the Oakland A’s, which will be replayed, oh, about 2,017 times between now and Tuesday.
Yet, it was hardly improbable, let alone impossible, that the Dodgers are the first team to receive their World Series invitation.
This is a team that was favored to win the World Series back in spring training. They marched through the regular season with 104 victories, even after losing 16 of 17 games down the stretch. They swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in three games in the NL Division Series. And came, oh, so close to sweeping this series.
Yet, after winning the NL West for five consecutive years, they finally have taken that next step, going where their ancestors failed for a generation.
Now, the Dodgers will have their chance, with three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw pitching on regular rest in Game 1 against the winner of the Yankees-Astros series. If it’s the Yankees, who hold a 3-2 ALCS lead, it will be the fourth time in the Dodgers’ last five World Series appearances that their opponent is New York.
The passion in Los Angeles, club VP Andrew Friedman says, is probably what has surprised him the most since he’s came to the Dodgers three years ago. He grabs a cup of coffee, and hears about it. He goes for a walk, and folks bring up ’88.
“My favorite thing about being here with the Dodgers is the passion of the fans,’’ says Friedman, formerly the Tampa Bay Rays GM. “Having that many people that care so much is what fuels us when we’re on the fence of being aggressive, or what we’re looking at.
“I think that contributes in a real positive way to doing everything we can in bringing a championship to LA.’’
The final hurdle begins Tuesday, in Los Angeles, at Dodger Stadium.
Bring your sunscreen.
Bob Nightendale, USA Today Sports