It crept up with the clank of Chris Taylor’s home run off a center-field roof.
It slipped nearer with the bang of Andre Ethier’s home run off a right-field scoreboard.
Then, finally, on a classically fall Tuesday night, it descended upon all of Wrigley Field with a shhhhh that cloaked the hardy fans as if they were strangled by ivy.
It’s almost here. The Dodgers are now just one win from their first World Series appearance in 29 years after a 6-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs gave them a 3-0 lead in the National League Championship Series.
“Right now we’re just focusing on winning baseball games,” said manager Dave Roberts. “If something happens within that, that would be great.”
They’ve never been this close to the Series since they last won it in 1988. And never in their 11 ensuing postseason appearances has it felt so real.
Only once in baseball history has a team overcome a three-games-to-none deficit to win a seven-game playoff series. The Dodgers do not appear to be the kind of team to blow that lead, and the Cubs are clearly not the sort of team to steal it. The series clincher could come as soon as Wednesday night in Game 4 at Wrigley, and it would surprise few if it ended then and there. If it does, they will be the first Dodger team to sweep a seven-game series in 54 years.
Remember when October began and everyone wondered which Dodger team would show up? Would it be the Dodgers who went 52-9 at one point this summer, or the Dodgers who later went 1-16? The Dodgers that finished with the best record in baseball, or the Dodgers who once looked like the worst team in baseball?
Asked, and answered.
“We’re kind of back to being the fun Dodgers,” said Dodger pitcher Alex Wood, who will start Game 4.
It certainly felt that way on a night that epitomized a Dodger culture that has yet to lose in six postseason games. While they are headlined by the star power of shaggy Justin Turner and showman Yasiel Puig, they are actually a group whose strength comes from anonymous, forgotten and unlikely pieces that have been deftly arranged into a masterful composition.
The anonymous star Tuesday was Taylor, a smallish, quiet, bearded dude who plays huge and loud. In the third inning of a 1-all tie, he drove a 3-and-1 pitch from Cubs ace Kyle Hendricks over the center field wall, banging it hard off a distant roof. Taylor, who played shortstop Tuesday, also homered in Game 1 as a center fielder, becoming the first player in baseball history to go deep from those two vastly different positions in the same postseason.
“He’s an impact player,” Roberts said. “He’s a huge asset for us.”
And, as usual, he was just getting started. With one out in the fifth inning, with Joc Pederson on second base and the Dodgers still clinging to that 2-1 lead, Taylor lined a ball into the left corner and sprinted past slumbering Cubs fielders for an RBI triple.
So far in this NLCS, Taylor is batting .333 with two homers and three RBI in three games, all this after a regular season during which he hit 21 homers and 72 RBI even though he didn’t even make the team out of spring training.
Then there was one of the forgotten stars, Ethier, the 35-year-old outfielder who is beloved by Dodger fans even though lately he’s rarely been seen on the field. This was his 1,500th game as a Dodger. He is the longest-tenured member of the team, yet he has played just 38 games the last two years because of injuries.
Much to the delight of folks back home jumping around their televisions, he was given a rare chance Tuesday night and he literally knocked it out of the park, opening the scoring with a home run in just his second plate appearance this postseason.
You think Ethier is looking forward to the clinching? Nobody on this team has waited longer. Ethier has not only played 12 Dodger seasons, but also has appeared in 12 postseason series without a World Series appearance.
Also rising from the lost and found was outfielder Pederson, a struggling former top prospect who was banished to the minor leagues at the end of the summer, left off the roster for the first round, and is only on the team because of the injury to shortstop Corey Seager. Yet there he was in the lineup knocking a two-run double down the right-field line and scoring the game’s third run.
Finally, the unlikely piece was Yu Darvish, the late-season acquisition from Texas. He was brought here for moments like this, and he pitched brilliantly — one allowed run and seven strikeouts in 6 1/3 innngs — but how about his bat? More precisely, how about the way he held that bat still?
With bases loaded and two out in the sixth, Darvish patiently drew a four-pitch, bases-loaded RBI walk from Carl Edwards Jr. in one of the more memorable plate appearances of the season. Indeed, he was walked even though he has collected only four hits in five major-league seasons. It was his second career RBI.
“When you’re facing a pitcher throwing 95-96 [mph] with a cutter, I didn’t think I had a chance to hit,” Darvish admitted through an interpreter. “I was just trying to do something.”
The gasp from the crowd when Darvish strolled was yet another sign that the World Series is near. It was, of course, later replaced by that silence that continued when Kenley Jansen, as usual, closed up the victory.
“There’s nothing inspirational I can say that will make a difference,” said a resigned Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “Our backs are absolutely against the wall.”
Just a year ago here, the Cubs fans partied so hard after clinching the National League Championship Series, their Los Angeles visitors were stuck inside their clubhouse for more than an hour before their bus could leave.
On Tuesday night, the place was much quieter, the streets of Wrigleyville were much emptier, and the Dodgers’ path to the World Series was clear.