For the first time since 1988, the Los Angeles Dodgers will play in the World Series after defeating the Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the 2017 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field.
Enrique Hernandez was the offensive hero for Los Angeles with three home runs and seven RBI, including a grand slam in the top of the third inning. Clayton Kershaw exorcised his playoff demons with one run allowed on three hits with five strikeouts over six innings to lead the Dodgers to their first NL pennant in 29 years.
Kershaw's playoff shortcomings have been well-documented. Coming into Thursday's game, the three-time NL Cy Young winner had a 4.57 ERA with 15 home runs allowed in 100.1 innings over 20 starts in the postseason.
However, per ESPN Stats & Info, Kershaw has not let the Dodgers down in potential series clinchers during his career:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
This is Clayton Kershaw's 3rd career appearance in a potential clincher in his postseason career. Dodgers are 2-0 in his prev 2 appearances.2017-10-19 22:35:06
After the Cubs won Game 4 Wednesday to keep their season alive, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sounded full of confidence because of how things were set up for his team.
"I wouldn't say that the pressure is on us," he said (via ESPN.com's Bradford Doolittle). "I think that we're in a pretty good spot. We've got our No. 1 pitcher going tomorrow, and we've got two of the guys at the back end rested. I can't speak to their mindset, but I still like the position we're in."
Los Angeles' No. 1 pitcher didn't disappoint one year after taking the loss in Game 6 of the NLCS when the Cubs clinched their spot in the World Series.
The Dodgers gave Kershaw a cushion to work with right out of the gate on Cody Bellinger's RBI double in the top of the first inning. Hernandez extended the lead to 2-0 with a solo homer in the top of the second inning.
ESPN.com's Dave Schoenfield added another point about Kershaw following Hernandez's grand slam that also explains some of his playoff shortcomings:
David Schoenfield @dschoenfield
Dodgers have scored more runs tonight for Kershaw than his previous five NLCS starts combined.2017-10-20 01:11:40
Once the Dodgers knocked Cubs starter Jose Quintana out of the game early, things were set up for them to do serious damage because Chicago relievers have been horrible in the series, per SI.com's Jay Jaffe:
Jay Jaffe @jay_jaffe
Cubs going to their bullpen, which has been something else in this series: 5.40 ERA, 4 HR, 13 BB, 12 K in 13.1 IP2017-10-20 01:01:31
After a Yasiel Puig single loaded the bases in the top of the third and ended Quintana's night, Hernandez delivered the knockout blow on the first pitch he saw from Hector Rondon, as MLB's Twitter account relayed:
What a time … for a slam. https://t.co/5hPoF4zNPX #PapaSlam https://t.co/S6lV692NOL2017-10-20 01:27:15
Following Hernandez's slam, ESPN's Arash Markazi captured video of Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson, who is part of the ownership group that bought the Dodgers in 2012, dancing at Staples Center before the Lakers opened their season against the Los Angeles Clippers:
Arash Markazi @ArashMarkazi
Magic Johnson continues to celebrate as the Dodgers take a 9-0 lead in the NLCS. https://t.co/feW8bqZYV62017-10-20 01:37:20
Hernandez capped off his historic night with a two-run shot in the top of the ninth inning, making Dodgers history in the process, as True Blue LA's Eric Stephen noted:
Eric Stephen @truebluela
Kiké Hernandez: most HR by a Dodger in a postseason game (3, also ties MLB record), most RBI by a Dodger in a postseason game (7)2017-10-20 03:03:58
MLB.com's Joe Posnanski did note the last two three-homer games in a league championship series have come from unlikely sources:
Joe Posnanski @JPosnanski
The last two players to hit 3 homers in a championship series game: Enrique Hernandez and Adam Kennedy. So ... baseball.2017-10-20 03:05:41
Just as the Cubs had their moment in the sun last year by posting the best record in Major League Baseball during the regular season en route to winning the World Series, the Dodgers have followed their lead in up to this point in 2017.
With the Dodgers' trip to the Fall Classic 29 years in the making, social media offered reminders of what life was like in 1988:
Craig Calcaterra @craigcalcaterra
Top laptop when the Dodgers last won the pennant. It cost $4K. It had 1MB of RAM, a 20MB hard drive, weighed 14lb and 2hr of battery life. https://t.co/iHMbFvc2fi2017-10-20 02:10:54
Marcos Breton @MarcosBreton
The last tine #Dodgers went to the World Series, Ronald Reagan was President. The Berlin Wall still stood. Clayton Kershaw was 7 months old2017-10-20 01:08:23
The Dodgers won their fifth straight National League West title, the longest active streak in MLB. They went on a historic 44-7 run from June 7 through August 6, leading Sports Illustrated to suggest they could be the greatest team of all time.
Things took a turn over the final month-and-a-half of the regular season, with September being particularly unkind to Los Angeles, as ESPN.com's Dan Szymborski pointed out:
Dan Szymborski @DSzymborski
If only the Dodgers had momentum or something rather than going 12-17 in September...2017-10-20 01:11:02
With uncertainty about where the team stood heading into the postseason because of that rough stretch, the Dodgers have gone 7-1 against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cubs to move within four wins of the franchise's seventh World Series title.
In five games against the Cubs, Dodgers pitching allowed a total of eight runs. Game 4 was the only time Chicago's offense managed to score more than two runs in a game.
The story of Chicago's disappearing lineup sits up there with the bullpen shortcomings as the main reasons the 2016 World Series champions missed an opportunity to repeat.
The only game this postseason the Cubs scored more than three runs was Game 5 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals when they pushed across nine runs in that memorable series-clincher.
Per Ryan Marx and Jonathon Berlin of the Chicago Tribune, prior to Game 4 Wednesday, the Cubs' average of 5.3 hits per playoff game ranked last out of 96 playoff teams and their 2.6 runs per game ranked 93rd since 1995.
This offseason is an important one for Chicago's front office. Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis are the Cubs' two big free agents, but the bullpen showed its lack of depth in front of Davis this postseason, which will need to be addressed.
While the Cubs are left to wonder what went wrong in October, the Dodgers' magical season will keep going with Game 1 of the World Series against the New York Yankees or Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 24.
In all likelihood, Kershaw will be the one throwing the first pitch in that game with a regular four days off before the Fall Classic begins.