NLCS drama shifts back to Wrigley with Cubs on verge of World Series

The National League Championship Series between the Cubs and Dodgers has been as good as advertised, even if critic-at-large John Lackey isn't crazy about the coverage.

"You guys dramatize everything," the Cubs starter complained Wednesday after their Game 4 victory.

In order to make Lackey happy, it's probably best to downplay all the drama in the Cubs' 8-4 win in Game 5, the one that gave them a 3-2 series lead and sends them back to Wrigley Field on Saturday with a chance to clinch their first pennant since 1945.

Jon Lester may have pitched seven brilliant, fist-pumping innings to put the Cubs one win from nirvana. Or, in less dramatic terms, perhaps he was just doing the job he's paid to do.

Addison Russell may have cranked a two-run, go-ahead home run to center while wearing Matt Szczur's leggings, one day after Anthony Rizzo homered and had three hits with Szczur's bat. Or maybe the Cubs just like borrowing Szczur's stuff.

Javier Baez may have saved the day with a couple magician-like plays at second. Or maybe he's just in the right place at the right time.

Whatever the narrative, the Cubs were preparing for a crazy Saturday night in Wrigleyville, where Clayton Kershaw faces Kyle Hendricks and the drama outside the ballpark figures to be as high as the drama inside.

"We can't focus on the atmosphere outside, or what's going on down on Clark Street," catcher David Ross said. "We've got to worry about Clayton Kershaw and how to attack him and stay pitch to pitch in our own little cocoon here."

Thinking about the World Series is a dream that won't be talked about until it's done.

"It'd be foolish of us to get ahead of ourselves," Kris Bryant said. "Because anytime you think like that it never goes the way you want it to."

Manager Joe Maddon, who seemingly studied at the Lee Strasberg school of method acting, was playing it cool before the game, talking about the need to score first again and give the starters some breathing room.

"Just moving forward, man, yeah, we want to keep scoring runs," Maddon said. "But I have a lot of confidence in our starters that if we're not, they're going to keep it in check too."

The Cubs scored in the first on Rizzo's RBI double, but the Dodgers tied it in the fourth on Adrian Gonzalez's run-scoring grounder that Rizzo, playing in, couldn't handle. Still, Lester kept the Dodgers in check long enough for Russell to put the Cubs ahead with second home run in as many nights, a two-run blast off Joe Blanton in the sixth that made it 3-1.

Maddon, who lifted Lester after 77 pitches in his Game 1 start of the NLCS, stuck with his ace into the seventh, allowing him to throw 107 pitches before lifting him for a pinch hitter.

Teams that have won Game 5 of a seven-game series tied at 2-2 have gone on to win the series 70 percent of the time (40 of 57).

But Game 5 had never been kind to the Cubs, at least since the dawn of the LCS in 1969. The Cubs were 0-3 in Game 5s of the NLCS, and all three were memorable disasters.

They led the Padres 3-2 in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS when Tim Flannery's grounder went through Leon Durham's legs, bringing in the tying run in a 6-3 loss that sent the Padres to the World Series.

In 1989 against the Giants, Mike Bielecki walked the bases loaded with two outs in a 1-1 tie, before closer Mitch Williams gave up a two-run single Will Clark, sending the Giants to the World Series.

In 2003, with the Cubs looking to clinch in Miami with a 3-1 series lead, Marlins starter Josh Beckett threw a two-hit shutout, striking out 11 to send it back to Chicago for Game 6. Long story short — it didn't end well.

For a while, this Game 5 was just as mesmerizing and nail-biting as the other three — sorry, Lackey — and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts added to the intrigue by trying to get into Lester's head before it even began.

Roberts said the Dodgers would use "gamesmanship" to get to Lester, taking big leads and bunting to take advantage of the pitcher's issues with throwing to bases.

"We've seen just about every trick in the book this year of trying to mess with him," Ross said. "So when they do it, it kind of fires him up and gets him every more locked in. You saw that tonight. He really dialed it up."

Lester passed his first test, even though he short-armed a throw to first on a Joc Pederson comebacker in the second. The one-hop throw still got to Rizzo in time for the out, and Lester glared into the Dodgers dugout while stalking off the mound.

The Dodgers managed only five hits off Lester, who was aided by some more fielding gems by Baez, not including the catch of a ball thrown off his chest by Rizzo in jest from a couple feet away. Rizzo was messing with Baez, who came close to him on a popup.

Meanwhile, Szczur may be the first MVP to not even play in the postseason after telling the Fox broadcasters Russell borrowed his leggings.

"It's funny, (Ben Zobrist) was like 'Hey, what have you got for me?'" Szczur said. "The same day everything came out, they ended up breaking out of their slumps, and it just happened to be with my stuff. It's good karma. I feel like a lot of things happen for a reason."

It was that kind of a night, and that kind of a series.

More may be in store for Game 6 on Saturday.

No drama, please.

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