“Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.”
That’s how we began the Pre-Gamin’ post for Game 6 of the 2016 National League Championship Series between the Cubs and Dodgers exactly two years ago today. And although there were many more tense moments to come, the feelings I experienced before Game 6 remain some of my most vivid memories of that amazing postseason run.
Kyle Hendricks was on the hill for the Cubs that night, in what was going to be his second start of the series – his first start came in Game 2, when Hendricks, MLB’s ERA leader, took the loss after walking an uncharacteristically high four batters over 5.1 IP. But if you remember back to that night, the focus was hardly on Hendricks. Instead, it was all about the guy starting opposite him, Clayton Kershaw.
Kerhsaw has made 10(!) postseason starts since Game 6, and they’ve mostly contributed to the unfavorable narrative regarding his abilities in those situations, but even then, the reputation had settled in: Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher of his generation, was not the guy to turn to in the playoffs. That was a sentiment echoed across the country … everywhere, perhaps, besides Chicago.
Were we aware of it? Of course. It was basically the thing I was thinking about most. But in my mind, Kershaw was still Kershaw, the Cubs were still the Cubs, and the lefty had just silenced Chicago for 7.0 innings in Game 2, allowing just two hits, a walk, and no runs. NOBODY was feeling confident about the bats ripping into Kershaw in that game, and I think that was well-justified.
Worse, the only thing on the TV all day was Kershaw, Kershaw, Kershaw (remember how often they were showing him warm up?). Because for as many postseason struggles as he’d had, he was still a dominant force in MLB and he was taking the mound to save his team from elimination on the road. It was supposed to be his night. It wasn’t.
It was all Kyle Hendricks, and it was beautiful.
By the time the dust had settled, Hendricks’ final line was sparkling: 7.1 IP, 2H, 0BB, 6Ks, and, of course, ZERO EARNED RUNS. He also picked a runner off first, which was awesome.
The Cubs, meanwhile, did not help Clayton Kershaw’s reputation one bit. Dexter Fowler (2-4, 2B, Run, RBI), Kris Bryant (1-4, Run, RBI), Anthony Rizzo (2-4, 2B, HR, Run, RBI), and Willson Contreras (1-3, HR, RBI) had impressive nights at the plate, and put the game out of reach.
Ultimately, the Cubs won the game 5-0, winning their first National League pennant in 71 years.
The Radio Call:
Celebrating at Wrigley:
In the Locker Room:
I lived just steps away from Wrigley Field at the time and caught this game with thousands of other Cubs fans from a bar in the area. I remember, vividly, walking outside and seeing a side of Chicago I hadn’t seen before (though it would happen – even more extremely – again just 7 games later).
People were dancing in the streets, beer was flying everywhere, hugs were free and bountiful, and, most notably, I saw at least 5 60-70-year old women dancing on top of those low-roof Wrigleyville garages. Spirits were sky high and it was one of the very best moments of my personal Cubs fandom – especially given how close they came the year prior.
Ultimately, the Cubs could not repeat as NL Champions in 2017 and they had a very early postseason exit this year, but the memories of that night two years ago – and what was yet to come – will live on forever.
From Brett: I was lucky enough to be in Wrigley Field for that game, and, more than anything else, what I’ll always remember is the tears – everywhere, tears – when the Cubs turned that double play to end the game. Joy overwhelmed almost everyone I could see to the point of tears, including my own. Fathers hugged daughters. Mothers hugged sons. Beer and tears everywhere. I didn’t leave the park for almost two hours.