Clayton Kershaw vs. Cubs in Game 6 can make baseball matter again

CHICAGO – It feels inevitable now, history and curses be damned.

The Cubs were faced with their moment of truth in this NLCS, their bats ice cold after two straight shutouts, and they responded with 18 runs in two games, proof this team is as tough-minded as it is talented.

Yes, they have been here before, famously so in 1984 and 2003, one win away from going to their first World Series since 1945, when Leon Durham had his Buckner-esque moment at first base, then Steve Bartman interfered with that foul pop-up down the third-base line.

Of course, those gaffes only defined those Cubs’ teams because they weren’t gutty enough to overcome them.

These Cubs, with a hipster manager who embraces the pressure and young stars who follow this lead, give you every reason to believe it will be different this time.

All of which makes for about as intriguing a post-season matchup as you’ll ever want to see:

Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and the Cubs are a win away from first World Series trip since 1945.

Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and the Cubs are a win away from first World Series trip since 1945.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Clayton Kershaw gets the ball on full rest for the Dodgers in Game 6 on Saturday night with a chance to at least delay the Cubs’ World Series destiny, by handing them a loss that could well change the series vibe and set off fear and loathing in Chicago in anticipation of a Game 7.

Yes, this is everything you want in October, the best pitcher in baseball trying to beat the best team, with the stakes at their absolute highest.

It should be a matchup that transcends the sport nationally, bringing the casual fan over from watching college football, perhaps even convincing couples to order-in for dinner on Saturday night.

In that sense, Game 6 feels like it could be something of a referendum on baseball’s popularity. More than ever the sport has become regionalized – always must-see stuff for the home fans who live and die with their team, but not so compelling around the country for those without a rooting interest.

Even with so much on the line, in fact, the games can feel torturously slow at times, as in the case in Game 5 of this series Thursday night, which took four hours and 16 minutes to play.

The Cubs came roaring back in LA to win the last two games and grab a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs came roaring back in LA to win the last two games and grab a 3-2 NLCS lead.

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

And, if it’s possible, felt longer than that.

The score was 8-4, not 18-14. But because Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts used seven pitchers, which almost feels like the norm in this postseason, and some of them, in particular Kenta Maeda and Pedro Baez, took forever between pitches, the game inched along at an unbearable pace, and no doubt lost a lot of viewers along the way.

Major League Baseball simply has to find a way to play these games faster, and the good news is that Commissioner Rob Manfred seems determined to find a way, knowing that much of the younger generation isn’t watching.

Of course, starting games earlier in the East would surely help in that regard as well, but that’s an old argument for which there is no hope, as MLB has long since sold out to the TV networks for big money, and that’s never going to change.

The point is, it takes more commitment than ever to watch baseball these days, which brings us back to the need for a true rooting interest.

The Dodgers will try to prevent history with Clayton Kershaw throwing on 5-days rest on Saturday.

The Dodgers will try to prevent history with Clayton Kershaw throwing on 5-days rest on Saturday.

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

But now along comes a game that should be practically irresistible for anyone who cares even a little about sports. Everybody knows the deal with the Cubs, trying to win for the first time since 1908, and that’s a storyline you’d think crosses all sorts of boundaries.

In addition, you have Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation but one with a star-crossed history in the postseason, unable to get his team to the World Series because of his own failures at crucial moments.

This time around Kershaw seems to be re-writing his own history, heroic in finishing off the Nationals out of the bullpen in the NLDS, then brilliant in Game 2 of this series.

But with a postseason record of 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA, he is still a long way from being Madison Bumgarner or Curt Schilling in October, never mind Sandy Koufax.

A masterpiece on Saturday night, in what will be the most raucous of environments at Wrigley Field, would likewise go a long way toward putting him in that class of great postseason pitchers.

Former Yankee Aroldis Chapman pitches the 9th inning of Thursday night's win over Dodgers.

Former Yankee Aroldis Chapman pitches the 9th inning of Thursday night’s win over Dodgers.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Too bad it’s not a Game 7, but this will be close enough, because even the specter of a do-or-die finale is something Chicagoans don’t want to have to consider.

Nevertheless, I’m convinced there is no denying these Cubs. Even if Kershaw shuts them down, it’s hard to see Rich Hill doing it as well in Game 7.

But at that point, with so much riding on one game, certainly anything would be possible.

It makes for great theater this weekend, the most far-reaching moment in baseball since the Red Sox overcame that 0-3 deficit against the Yankees in 2004, en route to ending their own fabled championship drought.

If anything can make baseball a national pastime again, however briefly, you’d think this would be it.

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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