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Time is running out for the Dodgers as Game 6 looms in Chicago

It began as a night for dreamers, with Vin Scully returning to Dodger Stadium to welcome fans to the most important game in many seasons.

It began as a night for dreamers, with Vin Scully returning to Dodger Stadium to welcome fans to the most important game in many seasons.

"It's time for Dodger baseball'' he intoned from a suite.

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It ended as a night for realists, because that time is running out.

Two days after appearing the verge of a return to the World Series, the Dodgers are now suddenly nine innings from winter.

Two days after completing consecutive shutouts of the mighty Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers have now endured consecutive beat-downs and are back to where their recent playoff history began.

They have one gasp left in their October life, and need more than just Clayton Kershaw to save them.

The Cubs' 8-4 win in Game 5 on Thursday night gave them a three-games-to-two lead, put them on the verge of their first Series appearance in 71 years and painted the Dodgers into a crowded, raucous Wrigleyville corner.

The Dodgers must now return to Chicago and win both games of a two-game weekend series ringed by history-hungry fans and hosted by a swaggering team that has its groove back.

And oh yeah, the nearly unhittable Kershaw can only pitch one of those games.

"It's going to be a formidable event,'' Cubs Manager Joe Maddon said. "Our guys will absolutely be ready for the moment.''

The Dodgers will need two moments. They must win Kershaw's start on Saturday, then win again with postseason newbie Rich Hill on Sunday, and even though the numbers might favor them, franchise history does not.

The numbers: Kershaw and Hill have combined to hold the Cubs scoreless in this series while giving up only four hits in 13 innings with a dozen strikeouts and only three walks.

The history: In the 2013 NLCS, the Dodgers returned to Busch Stadium trailing the St. Louis Cardinals three games to two but had high hopes of rolling into the World Series with Kershaw and Zack Greinke scheduled in the final two games. Not so fast. Kershaw gave up seven runs in four innings and Greinke was left sitting in the dugout.

"Hopefully he's not the good Kershaw and we get kind of the mediocre guy that gives up a few runs," said Cubs winning pitcher Jon Lester, resurrecting that history.

While Kershaw has since shed his postseason demons and appears stronger than ever this October, there is no guarantee he can carry the Dodgers into an anything-can-happen Game 7, especially if the rest of the team continues to lose its grip.

All the cute and cool things the Dodgers did throughout the season to reach this point, suddenly none of them are working

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Start with Joe Blanton, a converted reliever who spent most the season making the Dodgers look like geniuses, but who is now bearing the brunt of their failure.

After allowing the game-winning grand slam to Miguel Montero in the series opener, on Thursday Blanton allowed a go-ahead, two-run homer by Addison Russell in the sixth inning, and now one must wonder.

Has he finally hit the wall? He was perfect in four divison series appearances against the Washington Nationals, but has been kersone in this series, and doesn't he look fatigued? After spending most of his career as a starter, Blanton, 36, made a career-high 75 appearances this season. He's never been used like this, and maybe it's showing.

"He made a couple of mistakes in the series and we paid for it," said Roberts. "But as far as fatigue, I think Joe feels great, feels strong … so when you look at Game 6, Game 7, I'm not going to shy away from going to Joe."

Then there was the Dodgers lineup against Lester, which was even stranger than usual.

Enrique Hernandez was batting leadoff even though he had yet to have a postseason hit and only began a game in that position just 18 times this season. He didn't get a hit.

Carlos Ruiz batted cleanup even though he was 0 for 14 against Lester. He didn't get a hit in three at-bats against the starter while failing with three guys on base.

Remember that strange three-rookie lineup that lost the clinching Game 5 in last year's division series against the New York Mets? This night felt like that.

Finally, there was the possible overthinking by Dodger hitters in attempting to get on base against Lester, who has legendary difficulty throwing the ball to first base. Both Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez attempted and failed to bunt for hits, and have two guys who combined for 43 home runs during the season ever attempted such tap dancing in the same playoff game? It only seemed to inspire Lester, who gave up only one run in seven innings.

"They're home run guys," said Lester. "I'd rather them put the ball on the ground and let these guys try to field it and take my chances that way."

In all this dreariness, there was a bright spot for the Los Angeles sports landscape.

During the fifth inning, it was announced that the Sparks had won the WNBA championship with a thrilling Game 5 win against the Minnesota Lynx. It was the first Los Angeles sports title since the Kings and Galaxy both won championships in 2014.

Fans cheered while Dodgers and Sparks owners Mark Walter and Stan Kasten hugged.

One inning later, Blanton was in the game and Russell's drive was sailing over the center field fence.

The evening ended with the Dodger Stadium stands behind the visiting dugout populated with hundreds of cheering Cubs fans.

"Let's Go Cub-bies," they shouted.

The Dodgers better get used it. They'll be surrounded by it this weekend. If they don't figure out how to become the smart and savvy Dodgers again, it will be the last thing they hear this season.

Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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