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After years of disappointment, Dodger Nation drinks in the end of one baseball drought

After years of disappointment, Dodger Nation drinks in the end of one baseball drought
Dodgers fan Jose Anguiano applauds as third baseman Justin Turner comes up to bat in the first inning of Game 5 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

They came from all over dressed in Dodger blue. From Boyle Heights and Long Island, N.Y. From Oklahoma, Iowa and San Pedro, all convinced that their date with destiny would come right here in the Windy City.

It had been more than a quarter of a century since the Dodgers made it to the World Series — when a Kirk Gibson home run made grown men and women weep like children — and these fans were not going to miss out on a chance for their generation's moment of history.

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At Wrigley Field, they began to feel the long drought lifting inning by inning, game by game. And when the Dodgers won and advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1988, they took over the stadium, drinking in the victory.

Michael Schwartz, an orthopedic surgeon from Long Island, performed two surgeries Tuesday morning — repairing a shoulder and a knee — then rushed to the airport and hopped on a flight to Chicago for that night's crucial Game 3, with the Dodgers up two games to none in the National League Championship Series.

Schwartz, 51, inherited his love for the team from his father, a longtime Brooklyn Dodgers fan. As a first-year medical student, he watched the last game of the 1988 World Series in his dorm room at the New York University medical school, by himself, cheering.

To Schwartz, it felt like "there was no one else in New York City watching that game except for me."

This time, in the stands in Chicago and back home in Los Angeles, fans who had not even been born when the Dodgers last made it this far sat on the edge of their seats.

After the Boys in Blue took a 3-0 series lead with a 6-1 win on Tuesday, Cubs fans wearing 2016 World Series hoodies streamed out like dejected Dodgers fans did just last year. One muttered, "Oh, well. At least we have the Blackhawks."

Mehgin Lawrence, of Davenport, Iowa, and her dad, Don Hundoble, wore Dodgers caps in the scrum and grinned to themselves. They didn't want to act too excited because the Cubs fans had been friendly.

"You don't want to draw too much attention to yourself," Lawrence said. "But when the Cubs fans start going home, you get louder."

Wednesday brought Game 4 and a chance for the Dodgers to sweep the Cubs. Broadcasting at the ballpark, a Chicago sports radio show host was baffled by a still-hopeful Cubs fan. "It's not a fan's job to be dumb on purpose," he said.

The Cubs' organist played "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees. A $40 postseason shirt implored the team and fans: "Show up."

Norm Alleman, of Toluca, Ill., wore a Dodgers jersey and walked with his daughter Brittany, who sported a Cubs jersey.

"I raised her improperly," he said. Adding insult to injury, his son became a Cubs fan after moving to Chicago a while back.

"My wife and I are the only ones left," Alleman said. "If I croaked, she'd probably become a Cubs fan just to be with them."

Growing up in central Illinois, Alleman, 61, got sick of hearing Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals fans squabbling, so he started rooting for Los Angeles. As a boy, he'd hide under the covers, listening to Vin Scully on the radio, keeping score with a flashlight.

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Game 4 went the Cubs' way as they squeaked out a 3-2 victory. Hours after the game, drunk Cubs fans sang "Go, Cubs, Go" outside the ballpark. An annoyed city sanitation worker sweeping trash muttered, "It's only one game."

How many anxious Dodgers fans told themselves the very same thing?

Before Game 5 on Thursday, 10-year-old Micah Agustin from San Diego wore a baseball mitt as he tried to describe how he'd feel if the Dodgers made the World Series: "Speechless."

Efrain Nava, a band director from San Pedro, was confident that this year was the year.

"We have to seal the deal this year," he said. "We have the ammo. We just need to fire the gun."

Like those annoyingly omnipresent Cubs fans you find at every ballpark in America that the team visits, Dodgers fans were everywhere. One man wore a Dodger Stadium nacho helmet on his head and left his baseball jersey unbuttoned to show off the Dodgers tattoo on his chest. It was 59 degrees — probably perfectly agreeable weather for Cubs fans, but very chilly for a proper Angeleno.

At the top of the eighth inning, Aaron Friedman, a 20-year-old accounting student at Loyola University in Chicago, stood in the stands, keeping score by hand, just like his father always did. Thursday night's score book was turning out to be a keeper. The Dodgers were routing the Cubs 9-1.

An inning and a half to go.They couldn't blow it now. Could they?

"I can't believe they're going to do it," Friedman said. "And they're going to do it where I live."

Nearby stood Robert Ramirez, 44, of Boyle Heights, who could not believe his luck.

He and his girlfriend, Dalila Sanchez, 44, of East L.A., had flown in for Saturday's USC football game at Notre Dame. They got off the plane at 3 p.m. Thursday, and a friend told them Game 5 ticket prices plummeted as the game got closer — Cubs fans didn't exactly relish watching their team get vanquished. In a last-minute decision, they headed to Wrigley Field.

"We made it for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Ramirez, an Air Force veteran who grew up listening to legendary Spanish-language Dodgers announcer Jaime Jarrín.

With two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, a line drive ended in the glove of Dodgers shortstop Charlie Culberson. The Dodgers won 11-1 and were headed to the World Series. Ramirez's eyes welled with tears.

As the team rushed onto the field, Dodgers fans surged toward it, laughing giddily.

Michael Harada, 51, of Diamond Bar and his son Josh stood in seats behind home plate. The elder Harada attended Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. He'd waited so long to go again.

Josh, a 19-year-old student at the University of Louisville, had a 5 a.m. flight Friday to catch his 8 a.m. class. He wouldn't sleep. And he didn't care.

"I'm so used to us never making it," he said. "For 19 years, I've been let down. This is the best time of my life."

A Cubs fan walked by and shook Michael Harada's hand.

"Congrats, guys," he said. "Kick some ass." A chorus of "Let's go, Dodgers!" by a choir of dozens of fans echoed throughout historic Wrigley Field.

Albert Bujanda, 44, of Yucaipa carried a homemade sign reading: "Airfare Cali to Chicago = $700. Hotel Room = $300. Ticket to NLCS = $600. Watching Your Boys in Blue Clinch: Priceless!"

Bujanda had called his lifelong friend Greg Stuart days earlier and said he had a gut feeling: Dodgers in five games. They should go to Chicago.

Stuart was supposed to be at a Depeche Mode show at the Hollywood Bowl with his wife. But she's a big Dodgers fan too, Stuart said. She gave him permission.

"My soul is just jumping out of my body," Bujanda said. "I have no words. It was worth every penny."

When stadium staff told fans to leave, they chanted, "We're not leaving!"

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They did leave, of course. Cubs ushers shook their hands and congratulated them on the way out.

Twitter: @haileybranson

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